‘R29 billion’ Please Call Me idea could make Makate one of the richest people in South Africa

 ·14 Feb 2024

Kenneth Nkosana Makate wants R29 billion from Vodacom for his Please Call Me idea – which would instantly make him the fifth richest person in South Africa – placing him among the likes of Motsepe, Oppenheimer, and Rupert.

It was recently revealed in court documents related to the ongoing Please Call Me legal battle obtained by MyBroadband that Nkosana Makate could stand to score R29 billion – at minimum – in compensation from Vodacom. 

This the latest ruling an a years-long legal battle between Makate and Vodacom, and much back-and-forth between the two over what is considered fair compensation for his contribution to the Please Call Me service.

The Please Call Me saga

According to Makate, he had an idea for a free missed-call service that he shared with his superior at Vodacom in 2001. The service aimed to allow customers to get their contacts’ attention without using airtime.

As reported by Daily Investor, Vodacom launched the service, known as Please Call Me, in March 2001, and it became widely used across South Africa.

However, while Makate was involved in the idea phase of the product, he did not have any role in patenting, developing, or implementing it. 

The invention of Please Call Me, at least in the form that reached consumers, is, in fact, not credited to Makate. 

Legal expert Ari Kahn invented and patented his ‘Please Call Me’ service for another service provider, MTN, two months before Vodacom released its product. 

Despite this, Makate launched a lengthy legal battle against Vodacom, seeking compensation for his idea.

Makate’s legal team had initially demanded R20 billion to compensate him for his idea, based on a calculation that the Please Call Me product had generated R205 billion in revenue since its implementation. 

Vodacom did not share Makate’s views on how much revenue the service generated or how much he deserved. The courts, however, have so far sided with the group’s former employee on the matter.

After being ordered to fairly compensate Makate for his idea, Vodacom initially offered him R10 million. Makate rejected this offer, and Vodacom CEO Shameel Joosub’s team then constructed four models to estimate how much Makate should get, based on different scenarios.

After averaging the two models with the highest values, he came up with an offer of R47 million. However, Makate rejected this as well, and the matter again ended up in court.

Makate approached the High Court, and in February 2022, the court ruled in his favour. Vodacom appealed this ruling at the Supreme Court of Appeal.

However, the Supreme Court dismissed Vodacom’s appeal and ordered the company to compensate Makate between 5% and 7.5% of the revenue generated by the service over 18 years.

According to MyBroadband’s analysis, this ranges from R28.99 billion to R55.37 billion using the models accepted by the court.

Vodacom is not satisfied with the ruling and is taking the matter back to the Constitutional Court.

Potential Rich List

If Makate ultimately gets the calculated payday, he would instantly become one of the top five richest South Africans today, even at the ‘lower’ R29 billion end of the compensation range.

He would be in the same league as South African business icons such as Johann Rupert, Nicky Oppenheimer, Koos Bekker, and Patrice Motsepe.

These business moguls built their wealth over a lifetime or even generations. They were the best of the best in their fields and built very large and successful businesses to generate their wealth.

Based on the court ruling, Makate would immediately join their ranks – for sharing a single idea with his superior.

At the top end – R55.4 billion – he would be third richest man in the country, and the wealthiest black African, above even Motsepe (R51.4 billion).

Here is how the top five wealthiest South Africans list would look if Vodacom paid Makate R29 billion, as outlined by Daily Investor.

#NameNet worthClaim to fame
1Johann RupertR188. 47 billionJohann Rupert is the eldest son of business tycoon Anton Rupert. He built on his father’s success and oversees a large global business empire, including Richemont, Remgro, and Reinet.
2Nicky OppenheimerR175. 7 billionNicky Oppenheimer is the son of Harry Oppenheimer and grandson of Anglo American founder Ernest Oppenheimer – the first generation to chair De Beers. His wealth comes from building one of the largest mining companies in the world through generations.
3Koos BekkerR51.4 billionKoos Bekker transformed Naspers from a South African media company to a global technology powerhouse. He was also behind the creation of M-Net and MultiChoice.
4Patrice MotsepeR51.4 billionPatrice Motsepe is South Africa’s first black billionaire. He made his fortune through mining interests that eventually expanded in 2004 to form African Rainbow Minerals. He is also behind African Rainbow Capital, one of the country’s largest investment holding companies.
5Kenneth MakateR29 billionShared his ‘Buzz’ idea with Vodacom.
Source: Forbes Africa’s Richest Billionaires ranking

Read: South Africa kisses over 9,000 millionaires goodbye

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