Vodacom Closes South Africa Stores Amid ‘Please Call Me’ Protest

(Bloomberg) -- Vodacom Group Ltd. closed some South African stores on Thursday as protests intensify over the level of compensation the mobile-phone company is prepared to pay an ex-employee who had an idea for a popular call-back service.

While Vodacom says it accepts a 2016 court ruling that the company should pay Kenneth Makate for his creation, the two parties are at odds over the correct amount. Makate’s cause has been taken up by various groups sympathetic to his battle, including black rights activists and South Africa’s telecommunications minister.

Makate, 42, came up with the idea for ’Please Call Me’ while working for Vodacom in the early 2000s, and the concept was adopted by the Johannesburg-based carrier, which is majority owned by U.K. giant Vodafone Group Plc. The service enables customers with no credit on their phone to get a message to someone to call them back, and proved popular with Vodacom’s millions of subscribers.

South Africans have increasingly targeted the stores of major retailers as a way of protesting perceived injustice, particularly race-related. Nike Inc. temporarily shuttered outlets in August after the husband of an employee was caught in a racism row, while a year ago Hennes & Mauritz AB shops were trashed in protest at a controversial advertisement showing a black child modeling a hoodie with the text “coolest monkey in the jungle.”

The PleaseCallMe movement “was born after Makate came out and spoke about the bullying tactics used by Vodacom during two years of negotiating compensation,” Nelson Tau, a representative of the campaign, said in an interview. “We came out in support of the young black professional having to fight and endure the bullying of a big corporate.”

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