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#PleaseCallMe saga: Lesufi ignores threats, turns up heat on Vodacom

Jan 30 2019 18:37
Tehillah Niselow, Fin24

ANC Gauteng deputy chairperson Panyaza Lesufi says he is talking to the minister of finance about government's transversal contracts with Vodacom [JSE:VOD] and international institutions despite threats of legal action by the telecommunications company.

Lesufi, who is also Gauteng's education MEC, addressed a media briefing in his personal capacity on Wednesday along with the ANC Liliesleaf branch and members of the #PleaseCallMe Movement ahead of their planned shutdown of Vodaworld In Midrand on Thursday.

Lesufi has been vocal on social networking site Twitter, demanding Vodacom pay the Please Call Me Inventor Nkosana Makate for developing the product in 2000, while employed for the company. Please Call Me is a free service which enables a user without airtime to send an SMS requesting to be called back.

He continued to tweet on Wednesday afternoon, encouraging people to boycott Vodacom from February 1, if Vodacom does not respond to their demands.

According to pages of a court order shared by Lesufi, he, Makate and Modise Setoaba, convener of the Please Call Me movement had until noon on Wednesday to desist "from making false and defamatory comments" about Vodacom and "from calling for and/or inciting the invasion of the Vodaworld store".

"Vodacom confirms it has written to Mr Nkosana Makate, the MEC for Education in Gauteng Mr Panyaza Lesufi and Mr Modise Setoaba, convener of the Please Call Me movement. This follows recent threats to invade and occupy our offices on 31 January. It would be incorrect to call it a 'cease and desist order'," Vodacom spokesperson Byron Kennedy confirmed to Fin24 in an email.

Vodaworld shutdown

The Constitutional Court ruled in April 2016 that Vodacom was bound to an oral agreement that Makate had with the company's then director of product development Phillip Geissler and negotiations should begin with him for a "reasonable payout".

The #PleaseCallMe Movement, which claims to be a "movement against corporate bullying and consumer injustice" plans to shut down the Vodaworld offices, together with the ANC Liliesleaf branch, on Thursday, until Makate is paid what he is due, according to Setoaba.

Kennedy said Vodacom has "continuity plans in place to manage any eventuality".

The telecommunications company says it now considers the matter to be closed and the ball in now Makate’s court as Vodacom is ready and willing to pay.

"On 9 January 2019, the Vodacom Group CEO (Shameel Joosub) conveyed his decision and determination to both the legal representatives of Mr Makate and Vodacom.

"Having followed the Order of the Constitutional Court to the letter, Vodacom's view, as advised, is that the Vodacom Group CEO's determination, made in his judicially sanctioned role as 'a deadlock-breaking mechanism', is final," Kennedey said

Earlier this month, Makate said he rejected the agreement calling the amount on offer "shocking and an insult".

The mobile network operator said, however, it has not yet received official communication from Makate rejecting the settlement amount.

Pay back amount

While Vodacom says it cannot disclose the final settlement figure, in a complaint filed to the Independent Regulatory Board for Auditors and the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission in April 2018 against Vodacom and its audit firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers for misrepresentation of annual financial statements, Makate said Vodacom had offered him R10m.

Makate maintains he should receive 15% of the revenues generated by the Please Call Me product as this was the original agreement he had with Vodacom verbally. This figure is believed to be over R10bn.

The #PleaseCallMe Movement is distributing flyers demanding Vodacom pay Makate R70bn. The telecommunications giant, which has 79 million subscribers in SA and abroad, generated R86.bn in revenue and R15.6bn in net profit in 2017/2018.

Complicating matters further is an opinion column by Nkateko Nyoka, chief officer of legal and regulatory affairs at Vodacom, who claims rival MTN invented and patented the 'Call Me' product before Makate.

Makate hit back saying former Vodacom CEO Allan Knott-Craig admitted in court papers that the mobile operator had been the first to come up with the idea in the country.

While the decade long dispute drags on, Makate has some big hitters in his corner with former Public protector Thuli Madonsela and Communications Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams telling Vodacom on Twitter to pay him.

Vodacom has previously faced threats of a boycott from the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), in December, after a speaker at an event sponsored by the company used an image depicting party leaders as "abusers of freedom".

The mobile network met with the EFF and they issued a joint statement saying the matter could have been handled differently to avoid the "misunderstanding".

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