Southern African Catholic Bishops Request for “Observer Status” at Regional Entity

Logo SADC. Credit: SADC

Catholic Church leaders within the Interregional Meeting of Bishops of Southern Africa (IMBISA) have petitioned the Southern African Development Community (SADC) for the privilege to participate in the regional entity’s activities.

The Catholic Bishops representing Angola, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, São Tomé and Príncipe, South Africa, and Zimbabwe say a SADC-IMBISA collaboration will lead to the success of multiple initiatives.

SADC is an intergovernmental organization made up of sixteen member States: Angola, Botswana, Comoros, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eswatini, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe  

“We are requesting for an Observer Status, which will allow the Catholic Church to participate in SADC activities,” IMBISA Secretary General, Archbishop Robert Christopher Ndlovu of Zimbabwe’s Harare Archdiocese, said Wednesday, November 17 at a meeting with SADC Executive Secretary, Elias Magosi.

While observer status has limited ability to participate in an organization’s day-to-day functioning as well as the ability to vote or propose resolutions, Archbishop Ndlovu said granting their request will allow IMBISA to “meaningfully contribute to policies and activities of common interest.”


In his speech that was also published by IMBISA, Archbishop Ndlovu said the process of requesting for an observer status started two years ago when the Catholic Bishops in the region realized the important role that SADC and themselves play in promoting the common good. 

The Zimbabwean Archbishop recounted, “On the 25th of January 2019, a delegation of IMBISA Bishops met with your predecessor Dr Stergomena Lawrence Tax to introduce our organization and identify areas of cooperation through a proposition that IMBISA is accorded an observer status at SADC.” 

In the 2019 meeting, he added, Dr. Tax requested IMBISA to formally submit a proposal specifying the preferred cooperation with SADC while putting into consideration regional development entity’s protocols.

“In our proposal, we highlight our interventions in southern Africa, the Church’s role at the United Nations as well as our presence at the African Union. We also state the areas and modalities for collaboration,” the report by IMBISA indicates in what is sub-titled, “Summary of the Proposal”.

In the event that IMBISA is granted observer status, the Catholic Bishops say they will establish a liaison office at the SADC Secretariat in Gaborone, Botswana. 

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“The permanent delegation will ensure liaison between SADC and IMBISA. The reference here is to participate in SADC activities centred at the SADC Secretariat; sharing in SADC-related projects and one that is outside the question of SADC membership. IMBISA will of course meet all expenses related to this establishment,” officials of the Southern African Catholic Bishops said.

They also said that the Observer Status would help IMBISA have access to most SADC meetings and relevant documentation.

IMBISA leadership proposes to be given a chance to submit timely messages on SADC’s priority intervention areas and make statements to the Heads of State in the region or other meetings on matters of concern.

“While we recognize that SADC does not have space for observers, we hope that by submitting this proposal, your organization will consider putting one in place. In the interim, we hope that SADC and IMBISA can agree on a partnership guided by a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU),” the General Secretary of IMBISA said.

This story was first published by ACI Africa on 19 November 2021