Gauteng education MEC Panyaza Lesufi has called on South Africans to boycott Vodacom if Please Call Me inventor Nkosana Makate is not compensated by Friday.
Lesufi urged Vodacom subscribers to cancel their contracts and to request data and airtime advances and not pay for them. He also called on citizens to refrain from attending Vodacom-sponsored events.
Lesufi’s call for mass action came after the network provider’s refusal to pay former employee Makate, who has been battling to get Vodacom to pay him for his invention since 2007.
Vodacom is believed to have made billions from the service, which allowed subscribers who did not have airtime to send a free call request message to
The matter was taken to court in 2016. The Constitutional Court found that Makate had indeed invented the service while in the employ of Vodacom and instructed the company and Makate to negotiate and come to an agreement on “reasonable compensation” payable to him.
Vodacom served Lesufi with a cease-and-desist letter on Tuesday, warning him to stop commenting on and involving himself in the matter with Makate.
The letter was sent as a reaction to Lesufi’s tweet from earlier this month when he challenged Vodacom to pay Makate by the end of January “or face the wrath of the nation”.
On Wednesday, the MEC took to Twitter and posted parts of the email he received and said that he would not be easily intimidated.
Prior to Lesufi’s initial tweet, Vodacom had announced that it had reached a settlement agreement with Makate and would pay him “reasonable” compensation for his idea. However, Makate refuted the announcement, saying that Vodacom’s offer was insulting.
“This is not true. The offer that they claim to be making me is ridiculous and insulting and we are not accepting it,” he said at the time.
Vodacom’s chief officer of legal and regulatory affairs, Nkateko Nyoka, said: “Firstly, Please Call Me was an idea, but not an original one. It had already been invented and subsequently patented by MTN. In fact, MTN launched its version, Call Me, the month before Vodacom did.”
Makate hit back, saying: “Did the legal head of Vodacom listen to [former Vodacom chief executive] Alan Knott-Craig’s court testimony before writing about PCM [Please Call Me]? Alan said Voda was first to launch PCM, not MTN.”
Part of the cease-and-desist letter calls for Lesufi to “desist from making false and defamatory comments of and concerning our client in relation to its litigation with Mr Makate in general and in particular that our client is in wilful breach of the Constitutional Court order or that it is acting in an unfair and morally repugnant manner towards Mr Makate.”
The letter also requests Lesufi to stop making threats relating to the “invasion and occupation of any of our client’s various stores around the country in the future.”
He was given until midday on Wednesday to give a written undertaking to do this.
Instead, Lesufi held a media briefing together with the ANC Liliesleaf Farm branch to address the matter.
#PleaseCallMe movement convener Modise Setoaba said: “If they do not pay, we will demonstrate there [at VodaWorld and Vodacom stores] and shut down Vodacom until that [payment] happens.
“We will never allow Vodacom to ever operate until they pay Makate,” Setoaba said.
“Vodacom have sent a notice to their staff [at VodaWorld in Midrand and Joburg], saying they will not open on Thursday [tomorrow], and told staff to work from home. They are already prepared for us coming there on Thursday.”