In Zimbabwe there is no law that directly deals with the registration of religious organisations. However, most churches can register as non-profit making or charity organisations and the law that deals with that is the Private and Voluntary Act. Under the act, organisations that are registered are deemed to be Private Voluntary Organisations (PVO).

According to the Act, PVOs are defined as “any body or association of persons, corporate or unincorporated, or any institution, the objects of which include or are one or more of the following that provides for the provision of all or any of the material, mental, physical or social needs of persons or families; the rendering of charity to persons or families in distress; the prevention of social distress or destitution of persons or families; the provision of assistance in, or promotion of, activities aimed at uplifting the standard of living of persons or families; the provision of funds for legal aid; the prevention of cruelty to, or the promotion of the welfare of, animals.”

The PVO Act makes registration mandatory in that any organisation that seeks to carry out work as defined under section 2 of the PVO Act has to be registered. Section 6 (1) (a) and (b) of the PVO Act states that “no private voluntary organisation shall commence or continue to carry on its activities or seek financial assistance from any source unless it has been registered in respect of a particular object or objects in furtherance of which it is being conducted.” By virtue of not being registered, an organisation cannot collect funds from the public nor shall any individual be part of management or control of such an organisation with the knowledge that such institution is not registered.

Registration or Incorporation Requirements
For any organisation to be registered under the PVO Act, certain requirements have to be fulfilled. Section 9 of the PVO Act provides for the type of application forms to be used; the secretary of the organisation or such other person must lodge the application in the prescribed format with the Registrar of PVOs, along with a constitution of the PVO. Once an application has been lodged, the PVO in question must publish in a local paper, at its own expense, a notice as prescribed by the PVO Act calling for persons with objections to lodge them with the Registrar of PVOs within the prescribed time limit.

Once the registration papers are lodged with the Registrar of PVOs, who is ordinarily the Director of Social Welfare in the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare, the application forms are then submitted to the Private Voluntary Organisations Board (PVOB). The PVO Act prohibits individuals who have been convicted of a criminal offence involving dishonesty under statutory or common law within the past five years  from occupying the position of office bearer.  There is no limitation in terms of the number of the founders, nor is a minimum amount of capital required for the PVO. Operating an account or fundraising before registration is an offence under the PVO Act.

Dissolution, Winding Up, and Liquidation of Assets
The Registrar can initiate dissolution of a PVO if the organisation ceases to operate. The assets of the organisation will be disposed of in terms of its constitution. The PVO Act, through its regulations, provides for how dissolution takes place. The provisions for dissolution of CSOs operating as universities are contained in the constitutions of these organisations; such a decision will have to be reached by at least a majority of the board members. The same is true for trusts. Trusts and universities usually provide for dissolution of the organisation in their deeds of trust and constitution, respectively.

Religious organisations: tax and customs concessions and obligations
Religious organisations enjoy a number of concessions due to the nature of their business and below are the obligations and concessions applicable to these organisations. Income Tax legislation exempts from taxation ecclesiastical institutions of a public character and this covers the receipts and accruals of religious organisations. However, like all employers, religious organisations are required to register with the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (ZIMRA) within 14 days of becoming an employer. Pay As You Earn (PAYE) should be withheld from remuneration accruing to employees and should be remitted to ZIMRA by the third (10th) day of the following month. The remuneration includes the pastor’s stipend and other benefits like housing and motoring benefit. Records in respect of remuneration paid should be maintained. Failure to comply with these requirements renders the organisation liable for payment of the outstanding PAYE, penalties and interest.

Where rental income is received from a lessee who is an informal trader in respect of residential accommodation, premises or a place on which trade is carried on, the organisation is required to withhold an Informal Traders’ Presumptive Tax equal to 10% of the rental. This withheld amount should be remitted to the Commissioner General within 30 days from the date of such withholding. Failure to recover or remit the Presumptive Tax renders the organisation itself liable for the payment of the outstanding Presumptive Tax, interest and penalties. Where the informal trader fails or refuses to pay the Presumptive Tax, the church can terminate the lease without notice as such failure or refusal constitutes a breach of the lease.

Where the religious organisation enters into contracts for the supply of goods or services resulting in an obligation to pay amounts totalling US$250.00 or more, it should deduct 10% of the total invoice value and remit the amount to ZIMRA, unless the payee furnishes a valid tax clearance certificate confirming that their tax position is satisfactory.

A rebate of duty is a duty-free concession provided for in the Customs regulations. One such rebate is granted to registered religious organisations upon the importation of the following items and subject to approval by the Commissioner General:
•       organs and blowers, harmonious and band instruments;
•       church decorations, altars, fonts, lecterns, pulpits, vestments and other appointments not being furniture;
•       illuminated windows;
•       Bibles, prayer books, hymn books, pictures, pamphlets, posters, charts, statues of a religious nature, crucifix, church vessels, incense and other religious articles as approved by the Commissioner General.

Should such goods imported under rebate be sold or otherwise disposed of, the rebated duty becomes due and payable to ZIMRA. Although this rebate is meant for charitable organisations, religious organisations designated by the Minister of Finance as relief organisations may also enjoy the rebate. This rebate of duty covers goods imported for free distribution to the needy. It excludes new clothing, footwear and bed linen. The goods have to be approved by the ZIMRA Commissioner General and should not be sold or disposed of without his written consent. Religious organisations can also benefit from the rebate of duty on goods donated to them for use in charitable or welfare work. The organisation and the goods must have been approved by the Commissioner General.

This rebate, however, is not granted in the following circumstances:
•       Where the goods have been paid for with funds from local banking institutions or local branches of banking institutions registered and operating in Zimbabwe whether or not the funds were donated and payment is for freight;
•       The importation of second-hand or used motor vehicles;
•       The importation of new clothing, shoes and bed linen;

When a church is registered, it can join faith-based fellowship organisations such as the Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC) and the Evangelical  Fellowship of Zimbabwe (EFZ) for credibility purposes. The missions of these organisations vary but the general goal is to help churches in Zimbabwe bring salvation to all and eliminate poverty and move towards self-reliance and sustainable development. In Bulawayo, churches can partner with Churches in Bulawayo, an organisation that seeks to promote unity within the body of Christ.

Finally, keep in mind that this survey is not your ultimate guide to starting a church. Be sure to consult the respective authorities before you start your own religious community.