Zimbabwean ICT Minister Nelson Chamisa

By Alfonce Mbizwo, Harare, Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe's state-owned mobile operator, NetOne,  is close to securing a suitor for 49% of the group, says Zimbabwe’s ICT Minister, Nelson Chamisa.

Chamisa said Cabinet would soon meet to make decisions crucial in closing the deal for the smallest mobile operator by subscribers in Zimbabwe, lagging behind Econet Wireless and Telecel, a local unit of Egypt's Orascom Telecom.

“The cabinet committee on commercialisation and privatisation has listed the company as one that requires the most urgent attention and we are also operating on the basis of that urgency,” Chamisa told a local daily newspaper.

NetOne’s managing director, Reward Kangai, previously said the operator was in talks with South Africa's MTN and other African mobile firms about selling the 49% stake. He valued NetOne at between USD500 and USD800 million.

The company is prevented by the country's telecommunications laws from selling more than 49% percent of its shares to a strategic investor.

Finance Minister Tendai Biti said on Thursday that Zimbabwe now has 8.5 million mobile phone subscribers but still had a low mobile penetration rate, which makes it attractive for large mobile operators seeking to expand their footprint on the African continent.

To underline its potential, Kangai said NetOne's turnover would double to USD200 million in 2011 boosted by an increase in subscribers and a recovering economy.

Zimbabwe’s economy has started to recover after a decade of contraction following the formation of a unity government between President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tvangirai after disputed elections in 2008.

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