Churches in Bulawayo owe a combined $2.7 million in unpaid bills to the Bulawayo City Council (BCC), with council officials urging the churches to be faithful in paying their debt.
This emerged at a church leaders’ interface with the city council, Tuesday, where BCC Director of Financial Services Kimpton Ndimande implored churches to settle their debts on time.
He noted that one church is in arrears of $849 635 and said kicking out churches from their respective stands was not a solution as it would be embarrassing.
“We are not here to name and shame churches as was the case in Harare recently, but we urge those in arrears to clear their debts.
“We have a list of all those who are owing and we hope through such engagements we can be able to map a way forward and make payment arrangements,” he said.
Thabani Ncube, BCC Assistant Director of Housing added there has been a steep rise in the demand for church stands which surpassed the available amount of land.
“So far we have allocated 759 stands to churches. The city has spaces specially zoned for churches but at times we end up allocating some areas that are incidental. Our allocation of church stands is guided by several principles, which include the Constitution, the Bible, housing Act, EMA, public health Act and public noise Act,” said Ncube.
Ncube noted that churches were exempted from paying rates (property taxes) only if they exclusively use the building for religious purposes.
“The demand for church stands is outweighing the number of actual stands that we can supply to the residents. Due to limited availability of land in the city, the council has resorted to availing at least one stand for a church per suburb,” said Ncube.
“The city council is contemplating the possibility of members sharing church venues. There could be the construction of prayer halls that can be shared by various churches. That way more land can be saved up and there would be fewer bills to pay.”
Below is the breakdown of the various religious denominations in the City of Bulawayo:-
However, some church leaders complained that other traditional churches have several church stands in the same suburb.
In response, the Town Clerk Christopher Dube most of the churches with numerous stands acquired them a long time before there was a high demand for church stands.
“Some of these churches secured their stands before there were too many churches. These already have title deeds hence cannot have their stands repossessed. Such churches can, however, share their spaces with those that do not have,” he said.
President of Zimbabwe Christian Ministers Association Bishop Christopher Choto challenged church leaders to familiarise themselves with city bylaws, allocation of the church stands, purchasing and leasing procedures as well as debt recovery strategies employed by the council.
“Such platforms enable church leaders to know the legal places of worship within the city and how the issuance of those assembly certificates is done,” said Choto.
“As leaders, we also need to ensure our environments of worship are clean and there is orderly parking during church services. When we hold our services especially overnight, we should minimise our noise so that we don’t infringe on other residents’ rights.”