After a bad year struggling to pay off fine imposed on it by the Nigerian government for failing to cut off unregistered sim cards, MTN Group has swung back to profit.

Africa's biggest mobile phone operator, returned to first-half profit on Thursday in the absence of one-off charges related to the $1.1 billion Nigerian fine.

Headline earnings were 3.9 billion rand, $294.35 million, or 212 cents per share, in the six months ended June, compared with a loss of 4.9 billion rand, or 271 cents per share, a year earlier.

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"These numbers give us hope for the future. It's a very encouraging platform upon which to build our strategy," said Chief Executive Rob Shuter, who took the helm in March after the previous boss stepped down following the Nigeria fine.

The penalty for missing a deadline to cut off unregistered SIM cards followed a series of clashes with regulators that exposed governance issues, threatening to tarnish MTN's image as one of post-apartheid South Africa's biggest commercial successes.

Shuter, who has a background in banking, is expected to put the company back on a growth path by pivoting away from basic telecoms services to convincing its more than 200 million users to use their phones for everything from paying bills to watching live football matches.