Fighting to be Recognized for One’s Ideas: The Case of Nkosana Makate

South Africa_Nkosana Makate
Nkosana Makate was pictured outside court in Johannesburg when the legal case began (Source: Getty Images/BBC)

In these days of exacerbated capitalism and companies shipping jobs oversees so as not to pay the locals fair salaries in the face of increasing cost of living, or people’s ideas stolen by big corporations without a single penny in return, it is refreshing to learn the story of Nkosana Makate. Nkosana Makate is a South African man who worked for Vodacom in South Africa and who is the mind behind the “Please Call Me” texting service, yet it took him 14 years to be remunerated for his invention. His story is one of perseverance when in the right, and endurance. How many would have given up? After almost 2 decades of fighting, Makate is now about to receive several millions of dollars in compensation for his idea. Excerpts below are from the BBC.

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South African Nkosana Makate’s 14-year court battle against a huge corporate opponent is testimony to the idea that it is sometimes worth fighting on, as he is now in line for a pay-out worth millions of dollars, writes the BBC’s Pumza Fihlani in Johannesburg.

Two decades ago, he came up with the concept that went on to become Vodacom’s Please Call Me texting service, which allows customers to send a free message to another user on the same network requesting to be called back.

South Africa_Nkosana Makate - TimesLive
Nkosana Makate (Source: TimesLive.co.za)

… Twenty-two years ago Mr Makate was working as a trainee in Vodacom’s finance department.

Rebecca [my wife] was a student at Fort Hare University and we were in a long-distance relationship. There’d be times where she’d want to call me but didn’t have airtime [credit to call].

I thought: ‘Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to initiate a call even when you didn’t have airtime?’ That’s how the idea came about,” he beamed, reliving the moment.

He entered into a verbal agreement with the company’s then director of product development and management, Philip Geissler, that he would get a share of the revenue generated by the product once it went to market.

At the time [in 2000] the firm even shared an internal newsletter praising him for the concept.

But something changed at some point and it is not clear why.

Suddenly I was told that I’m being greedy for wanting a share of the profits from what I created,” said Mr Makate.

Instead of accepting the situation and deciding it was not worth taking on Vodacom, he went to court in 2008.

… His team of experts estimate that Vodacom made at least $4.7bn (£3.4bn) from Please Call Me and he has not seen a cent of those profits. Mr Makate has been asking for 15% of that.

At first, the company denied that their ex-employee had come up with the idea and then they said he was not due any financial benefits from it.

The case has gone through a number of courts

Eventually, in 2016, it ended up in the highest court, the Constitutional Court, which found in Mr Makate’s favour and ordered the two sides to negotiate remuneration.

The company offered a settlement of $3.1m saying it was “overly generous“, but he rejected it.

… “For me it’s about what is right, what is fair and it’s about justice. What they are doing is wrong and I cannot allow that,” he said …

… “I’m happy we persisted with the court review because we have now been vindicated,” he said.

Earlier this month, High Court judge Wendy Hughes said that Vodacom had gone against the Constitutional Court ruling and negotiated in bad faith.

Judge Hughes also said he [Makate] was entitled to a much bigger share of the revenue, which could run into the tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars.

… “… I will not give up,” he said, … He wants to make his children proud.

I hope they know that daddy fought a clean good fight and that they learn to stand for something in life. I also hope they learn that nothing worthy comes easy.”

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