NetOne is the second largest cellular telephone operator in Zimbabwe while MTN is South Africa’s largest telecommunications company.
In Zimbabwe, Econet Wireless Holdings Zimbabwe Limited (Econet) is the largest cellular telephone network operator with more than two million subscribers.
In a major move MTN also last week signed a lucrative deal to sponsor Manchester United Football Club in the Barclays Premier Soccer League (PSL) in the United Kingdom.
Manchester United is the world’s most popular and richest football team.
The confidentiality agreement between MTN and NetOne means that the SA-based firm moves closer to acquiring a key stake in the Zimbabwean company.
Ironically, however, last year, the Minister of Economic Planning and Investment Cooperation, Elton Mangoma, said NetOne was not up for grabs and firms should not jostle for any stake as they were simply wasting their time.
He said NetOne was a key asset and government would not sell any piece of the struggling parastatal to anybody.
Mangoma said NetOne would, however, be commercialised instead.
Senior MTN officials in Harare said it had now wound up its due diligence on NetOne and was expected to place its final bid soon.
Insiders said government would only offer MTN a small stake in NetOne and not the huge chunk they were seeking.
They said NetOne was a key communications concern for government just like TeOne, the fixed telephone company also controlled by the cash-strapped government.