ITWeb was at the protest outside Vodacom headquarters (Vodaworld) in Midrand today where about 100 to 150 protesters from the #PleaseCallMe Movement gathered in support of 'Please Call Me' inventor Kenneth Nkosana Makate.
The movement wants Makate to be paid R70 billion for the idea that led to the development of the call-back service.
Ahead of the protest, Vodacom had already closed the retail outlets within the Vodacom campus, including Vodaworld "in the interests of the safety and security of staff and customers".
"We remain ready and willing to pay Mr Makate a substantial amount, having fully complied with the Constitutional Court order on the matter," Vodacom spokesperson Byron Kennedy said.
After about an hour-and-a-half of protesting, Benson Motsumi, who is an ANC member and a member of the joint ANC and #PleaseCallMe Movement committee, said protestors were going to disperse but would return and "shutdown" Vodacom at a future date.
"There is a plan for a future shutdown; today Vodacom shut themselves down, so they assisted us. We could not hand over the memorandum when there is no one in here so obviously we need to come in here [in Vodaworld] when there is someone to accept that memorandum. That is the reason why we have to go back to the drawing board and plan as to how we are going to move forward," he said.
Motsumi said the committee was going to meet to craft a way forward, which would include "informing our people to start cancelling their [Vodacom] contracts as of today. It includes informing our people to start [reversing] their debit orders, telling our people to start doing Airtime Advance and not paying it back, and that includes porting their Vodacom numbers to either Telkom or other networks, but we would promote that they port to Telkom and there is a specific reason for that".
"For now we are going to ask our people to disperse. You know what happened in Marikana; these guys [the police] have a tendency of shooting our people," he said.
A substantial police presence was at the protest, with police officers in riot gear guarding the locked gates of Vodacom World. The streets around the telecom operator's headquarters were closed off by police vehicles.
One of the protestors, Lehlohonolo Nchabeleng, who is an ANC Youth League member and lives in Ward 49 of Katlehong, told ITWeb that Vodacom needs to pay Makate the R70 billion.
"As the leaders of the youth, we stand for a black person. Makate is from our ward and we understand the struggles he has been through. And we think this money, if they pay him, it could make a big change in our community, and some of the youth members of our ward will get bursaries. [Makate] promised bursaries and support for football and so on," Nchabeleng said.
"Vodacom promised us from 10 o'clock they will give us straight answers but we are not getting any answers from Vodacom."
The road to here
Negotiations between Makate and Vodacom have been going on since 2016, after the Constitutional Court on 26 April 2016 ruled in favour of the former Vodacom employee, finally ending a legal case that had been dragging on since 2008.
The Constitutional Court ruling said: "Vodacom is ordered to commence negotiations in good faith with Mr Kenneth Nkosana Makate for determining a reasonable compensation payable to him in terms of the agreement."
However, "in the event of the parties failing to agree on the reasonable compensation, the matter must be submitted to Vodacom's chief executive officer for determination of the amount within a reasonable time".
After over two-and-a-half years, no settlement seems to have been reached and Vodacom CEO Shameel Joosub has determined the amount Makate will be paid for his idea. How much Vodacom is offering Makate has not been revealed due to "a confidentiality agreement" but Makate previously said he won't accept the offer, calling it "shocking and an insult".
Makate had originally asked Vodacom for 15% of all 'Please Call Me' revenue, should the product be successful. In 2016, his legal counsel argued that would amount to around R10.5 billion.
Vodacom's market capitalisation on the JSE today is worth around R220 billion, so the demand for R70 billion would be almost a third of that. The group's revenue for the year ended 31 March 2018 was R86.4 billion and for the year it made a net profit of R15.6 billion.