Nairobi News


Court orders Vodacom to pay ‘Please Call Me’ inventor

The inventor of the popular ‘Please Call Me’ service is set to become a millionaire after South Africa’s highest court ordered his former employers to negotiate a compensation package with him.

In a case that has dragged on for nearly a decade, Mr Kenneth Nkosana Makate had sued South African telecom giant Vodacom demanding compensation for the idea behind ‘Please Call Me’.

The judges at South Africa’s Constitutional Court delivered their verdict on Tuesday, ordering both parties to negotiate and reach a settlement within the next 30 days.

“The negotiations will involve the active participation of Mr Makate. On both sides they will require conduct that is bona fide and reasonable. None of that is consistent with the simple concept of a debt and its discharge,” Judges Chris Jafta and Wallis AJ ordered on Tuesday.


The judges further directed that the two sides must negotiate in good faith and should not “enter into those negotiations just to go through the motions.”

If they reach a settlement within this time, it would be a long road travelled by the South African accountant who developed the idea while working as a trainee at the South African telco.

He had initially demanded a 15 per cent cut on revenues earned from the service but his employers rejected his request. They deferred the discussion to a later date, which never materialised until Tuesday.

Vodacom in South Africa, listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, is part of the telecom group under Vodacom, operating in five countries including South Africa, Democratic Republic of Congo, Lesotho, Mozambique and Tanzania.

But it is owned largely by the parent company Vodafone Plc, which also owns a stake in Safaricom in Kenya.


Mr Makate had told the Court that his idea was inspired by a long distance relationship he had with his girlfriend at the time. As calling was expensive, he needed something that his girlfriend would use to alert him to call.

He later presented the idea to the firm’s director of product development and management Philip Geissler. The two would later agree for the idea to be tested for commercial viability.

If it worked, Mr Makate was to receive a share of revenue generated. Initially, Mr Makate demanded 15 per cent, but the matter was postponed to a later date where the CEO would determine the pay.

In February of 2001, Vodacom introduced ‘Please Call Me’, a service that allows prepaid mobile phone subscribers to send a message for free to other users asking to be called back.

In one of the bulletins presented in Court, Vodacom management acknowledged the idea was Makate’s and claimed it was the world’s first.

Vodacom initially offered the service for free but later charged users a percentage.

“The service had become so popular and profitable that revenue in huge sums of money was generated, for Vodacom to smile all the way to the bank… yet it did not compensate the applicant even with a penny for his idea” Court records said.


Soon, Vodafone, Vodacom’s parent company rolled it to its affiliates around the world including Safaricom where it became popular.

The inventor did not however demand a cut from its use from regions beyond the jurisdiction of Vodacom South Africa.

When he sued Vodacom for breach of contract, the South African High Court in 2014‚ dismissed his demand for payment.

Even as it agreed that he had entered some sort of oral agreement with the product development manager, judges decided that he could not prove there existed a binding contract with the company.

“In not compensating the applicant and persisting in advancing the legal defences even after the trial Court had emphatically found that an agreement was concluded, Vodacom associated itself with the dishonourable conduct of its former CEO, Mr Knott-Craig and his colleague, Mr Geissler.

“This leaves a sour taste in the mouth. It is not the kind of conduct to be expected from an ethical corporate entity,” the judges ruled.

In its defence, the company had argued the invention was by the CEO and not Mr Makate, an assertion judges termed as “untrue” and meant to deny the inventor his due.