R29 billion Vodacom payday would make Makate fifth richest person in South Africa

Kenneth Nkosana Makate wants R29 billion from Vodacom for his Please Call Me idea. That will make him richer than billionaires like Christo Wiese and Michiel le Roux.

The R29 billion compensation Makate demands from Vodacom was revealed in court documents related to the ongoing Please Call Me legal battle.

In early 2001, Makate shared an idea for a free missed-call service with his superior at Vodacom. It was aimed at customers getting their contacts’ attention without airtime.

In March 2001, Vodacom launched Please Call Me, which South Africans across the country used.

However, Makate’s involvement in the product ended abruptly at the idea phase. Makate played no role in the patenting, development or implementation of the product.

Another contentious point is that Makate is not credited with the invention of Please Call Me – at least not in the form that reached consumers.

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

In the following two decades, a long and drawn-out legal battle ensued where Makate looked for a big payday 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.

Vodacom did not share Makate’s views on how much revenue the service generated or how much he deserved. Instead, the company offered Makate R10 million.

After Makate rejected this offer, Vodacom CEO Shameel Joosub’s team constructed four models to estimate how much Makate should get.

He averaged the two models with the highest values and arrived at an offer of R47 million. It was much lower than Makate’s demands and was promptly rejected.

Makate approached the High Court, and in February 2022, the High Court ruled in favour of Makate. Vodacom appealed this ruling.

The Supreme Court of Appeals (SCA) dismissed Vodacom’s appeal and ordered Vodacom to use a compensation model which would pay Makate between R28.99 billion and R55.37 billion.

Vodacom is now taking the matter back to the Constitutional Court as it does not see this compensation as fair and reasonable.

How much money Makate will get for an idea

Even at the lower end of the range, Makate would immediately jump into the top five wealthiest South Africans today.

He would join South African business royalty like 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 had to build very large and successful businesses to generate this wealth.

Based on the court ruling, Makate would join their ranks immediately. Unlike these billionaires, who built business empires, his wealth would come from sharing a single idea with his superior.

Here is how the top five wealthiest South Africans list would look if Vodacom paid Makate R29 billion.

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