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Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 2.3 million (midyear 2019 estimate). According to the 2011 Population and Housing Census reporting on the population 12 years of age and over, 79 percent of citizens are members of Christian groups, 15 percent espouse no religion, 4 percent are adherents of the Badimo traditional indigenous religious group, and all other religious groups together constitute less than 1 percent of the population.

Anglicans, Methodists, and members of the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa make up the majority of Christians. There are also Lutherans, Roman Catholics, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ), Seventh-day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Baptists, Mennonites, and members of the Dutch Reformed Church and other Christian denominations. According to the 2011 census, there are approximately 11,000 Muslims, many of whom are of South Asian origin. There are small numbers of Hindus, Baha’is, Buddhists, Sikhs, and Jews. Immigrants and foreign workers are more likely to be members of non-Christian religious groups than native-born citizens.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

Under its broader protections of freedom of conscience, the constitution provides for freedom of thought and religion, the right to change religion or belief, and the right to manifest and propagate religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice, and observance. The constitution permits the government to restrict these rights in the interest of protecting the rights of other persons, national defense, public safety, public order, public morality, or public health when the restrictions are deemed “reasonably justifiable in a democratic society.” The government has never exercised this provision. The constitution’s provision of rights also prohibits discrimination based on creed.

The constitution permits every religious group to establish places for religious instruction at the group’s expense. The constitution prohibits requiring religious instruction or participation in religious ceremonies in a religion other than one’s own. The constitution also prohibits compelling an individual to take an oath contrary to that individual’s religious beliefs. The penal code criminalizes “hate speech” towards any person or group based on “race, tribe, place of origin, color or creed” and imposes a maximum fine of 500 pula ($47) per violation.

All organizations, including religious groups, must register with the government. To register, a group must submit its constitution to the Registrar of Societies section of the Ministry of Nationality, Immigration, and Gender Affairs. A group must register to conduct business, sign contracts, or open an account at a local bank. In order to register, new religious groups must have a minimum of 150 members. For previously registered religious groups, the membership threshold is 10. Any person who manages, assists in the management of, or holds an official position in an unregistered group is subject to a fine of up to 1,000 pula ($95) and up to seven years in prison. Any member of an unregistered group is subject to penalties, including fines up to 500 pula ($47) and up to three years in prison. According to a 2019 data from the Registrar of Societies, there are 2,318 registered religious organizations.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

Optional religious education remained part of the curriculum in public schools; this curriculum continued to emphasize Christianity but also discussed other religious groups in the country. Government regulation of private schools did not distinguish among Christian, Muslim, or secular schools.

In general, religious groups reported little difficulty or delay in the registration process.

The government continued to pursue court cases involving unregistered churches (sometimes called “fire churches”) coming into the country to “take advantage of” local citizens by demanding tithes and donations for routine services or special prayers. The government required pastors of some of those churches to apply for visas, even those from countries whose nationals were normally allowed visa-free entry. The government permitted the Enlightened Christian Gathering (ECG) in March to continue operations while awaiting a court decision on the group’s appeal of the December 2017 cancellation of its registration for not submitting required audited financial results. The ECG, founded by a Malawian pastor, has 14 branches in the country. The government stated in June that it was reviewing visa restrictions on EGC two pastors. One of the pastors reported on social media that he returned to Botswana in late October, thanking the government for lifting the restrictions.

Although it was common for government meetings to begin with a Christian prayer, members of non-Christian groups occasionally led prayers as well.


Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 1.1 million (midyear 2019 estimate). Religious leaders estimate that 90 percent of the population is Christian, approximately 2 percent is Muslim (of whom many are not ethnic Swati), and the remainder belongs to other religious groups, including those with indigenous African beliefs. According to anecdotal reports, approximately 40 percent of the population practices Zionism, a blend of Christianity and indigenous ancestral worship (some adherents of which self-identify as evangelical Christians), while another 20 percent is Roman Catholic. There are also Anglicans, Methodists, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Seventh-day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and very small Jewish and Baha’i communities. Zionism is widely practiced in rural areas.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and provides for freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, including the right to worship, alone or in community with others, and to change religion or belief. These rights may be limited by laws that are “reasonably required” in the interest of defense, public safety, order, morality, health, or protecting the rights of others. The constitution provides religious groups the right to establish and operate private schools and to provide religious instruction for their students without interference from the government.

The law requires religious groups to register with the government. The Ministry of Home Affairs is the government agency responsible for monitoring religious affairs in the country. To register as a religious group, Christian groups must apply through one of the country’s three umbrella religious bodies – the League of Churches, Swaziland Conference of Churches, or Council of Swaziland Churches – for a recommendation, which is routinely granted and does not impede registration, according to church leaders. The application process requires a group to provide its constitution, membership, and physical location, along with the umbrella body’s recommendation, to the Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Trade, which then registers the organization. For indigenous religious groups and non-Christian religious organizations, authorities consider proof of a religious leader, a congregation, and a place of worship as sufficient grounds to grant registration. Registered religious groups are exempt from taxation, but contributions are not tax deductible.

All prospective builders, including religious groups, must obtain government permission for the construction of new buildings in urban areas, and permission from the appropriate chief and chief’s advisory council for new buildings in rural areas. In some rural communities, chiefs have designated special committees to allocate land to religious groups for a minimal fee.

Christian religious instruction is mandatory in public primary schools and incorporated into the daily morning assembly. Christian education is also compulsory in public secondary schools. There are no opt out procedures. Religious education is neither prohibited nor mandated in private schools.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

The 2017 directive declaring Christianity the only religion in the public school curriculum and banning the teaching of other religions remained in effect. According to religious leaders and civil society organizations, school administrations permitted only Christian religious youth clubs to operate in public schools. Christian clubs sometimes conducted daily prayer services in public schools and were permitted to raise funds on campus. Christian clubs’ activities were normally conducted during lunch breaks, weekends, and school holidays.

Muslims continued to report incidents of not receiving prompt services from government officials, such as obtaining identity documents or processing immigration and customs paperwork at border posts. Because most Muslims in the country are of South Asian descent, it was difficult to categorize many incidents of bias as being solely based on religious identity.

Religious leaders said the government continued to protect the right of Muslim workers to close businesses in order to attend Friday afternoon prayer sessions at mosques despite government-mandated business operating hours. Businesses owned by members of the Baha’i community were allowed to close shops in observance of Baha’i religious holidays. Public schools, however, did not excuse students from attendance on non-Christian religious holidays, Friday Muslim prayers, or Saturday services (for Seventh-day Adventists, for example).

Non-Christian groups reported the government continued to provide some preferential benefits to Christians, such as free time on state television and radio. Government-owned television and radio stations broadcast daily morning and evening Christian programming. The government continued to provide each of the three Christian umbrella religious bodies and their affiliates with free airtime to broadcast daily religious services on the state-run radio station. Local newspapers provided free space in their announcement sections to Christian groups but not to non-Christian groups.

The monarchy, and by extension the government, aligned itself with Christian faith-based groups and supported many Christian activities. Official government programs often opened with a Christian prayer, and several government ministers held Christian prayer vigils, which civil servants were expected to attend.


Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 2.0 million (midyear 2019 estimate). According to the CCL, approximately 90 percent of the population is Christian. An Afrobarometer December 2017 survey estimated the Christian population to be 94 percent or higher. The survey found that Protestants, including Anglicans, evangelical Christians, Methodists, members of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Pentecostals, Christian Zionists, Baptists, and members of the Church of Christ represent 52 percent of the population, and Roman Catholics 42 percent. The rest of the country’s residents are Muslim, Hindu, Baha’i, belong to indigenous or other religious groups, or are nonbelievers. Many Christians practice traditional indigenous rituals in conjunction with Christianity. There is a small number of Jews, most of whom are not citizens, and a small number of Muslims, who live primarily in the northern area of the country. There is no significant correlation between religious affiliation and ethnicity, political, or socioeconomic status.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and provides for freedom of conscience, thought, and religion, including the freedom to change religion or belief, and to manifest and propagate one’s religion. These rights may be limited by laws in the interests of defense, public safety, order, morality, or protecting the rights of other persons, provided the limitations are the minimum necessary.

The government has no established requirements for recognition of religious groups. By law, any group, religious or otherwise, may register as a legal entity with the government, regardless of its purpose, as long as it has a constitution and a leadership committee. Most religious groups register, but there is no penalty for those that do not. Registration gives a group legal standing, formalizes its structure under the law, and provides exemption from income tax. In the absence of registration, religious organizations may operate freely, but without legal standing or any of the protections of registered organizations.

The education ministry pays and certifies all teachers at government-funded schools, including religious schools, and requires a standard curriculum for both secular and religious schools. The government permits but does not mandate religious education in schools, and the constitution exempts students at any educational institution from requirements to receive instruction or attend any ceremony or observance associated with a religion that is not their own. The minister of education must approve all curricula, including for religious education classes. The law does not prohibit or restrict schools run by religious organizations. Other than the constitutional provision barring discrimination, there is no specific law requiring religious schools to accept children not of the school’s denomination.

The country is party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

During the year, churches owned and operated 83 percent of all primary and 66 percent of all secondary schools. The Roman Catholic Church, Lesotho Evangelical Church, Anglican Church, and, to a lesser extent, Methodist Church were the primary operators of religious schools, which were publicly funded. In February the CCL released a statement stating the government should include the group in its efforts to resolve recurring teacher strikes over salaries and working conditions.

In practice, in any school offering religious education – including all religious schools and some secular schools – the subject was mandatory. Despite the constitution granting the ability for students to opt out, there were no reports of students electing to do so.

The government continued to permit families to send their children to schools run by a religious group other than their own, and some families chose this option. Others went to public schools or secular private schools.


Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 26.3 million (midyear 2019 estimate). According to the national census in 1993, 52 percent adheres to indigenous beliefs, 41 percent is Christian, and 7 percent is Muslim. It is common to alternate between religious identities or to mix traditions, and many individuals hold a combination of indigenous and Christian or Muslim beliefs.

Muslim leaders and local scholars estimate Muslims currently constitute between 20 and 25 percent of the population. Muslims predominate in the northwestern coastal areas, and Christians predominate in the highlands. According to local Muslim religious leaders and secular academics, the majority of Muslims are Sunni. Citizens of ethnic Indian and Pakistani descent and Comorian immigrants represent the majority of Muslims, although there are a growing number of ethnic Malagasy converts.

Local religious groups state nearly half of the population is Christian. The four principal Christian groups are Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans, and the Presbyterian Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar (FJKM Church). Smaller Christian groups include The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh-day Adventists, and a growing number of local evangelical Protestant denominations.

There are small numbers of Hindus and Jews in the country.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of religious thought and expression and prohibits religious discrimination in the workplace. Other laws protect individual religious beliefs against abuses by government or private actors. The constitution states that such rights may be limited by the need to protect the rights of others or to preserve public order, national dignity, or state security. The labor code prohibits religious discrimination in labor unions and professional associations.

The law requires religious groups to register with the Ministry of the Interior. By registering, a religious group receives the legal status necessary to receive direct bequests and other donations. Once registered, the group may apply for a tax exemption each time it receives a gift from abroad. Registered religious groups also have the right to acquire land from individuals to build places of worship; however, the law states landowners should first cede the land back to the state, after which the state will then transfer it to the religious group. To qualify for registration, a group must have at least 100 members and an elected administrative council of no more than nine members, all of whom must be citizens.

Groups failing to meet registration requirements may instead register as “simple associations.” Simple associations may not receive donations or hold religious services, but the law allows them to conduct various types of community and social projects. Associations engaging in dangerous or destabilizing activities may be disbanded or have their registration withdrawn. Simple associations must apply for a tax exemption each time they receive a donation from abroad. If an association has foreign leadership and/or members, it may form an association “reputed to be foreign.” An association is reputed to be foreign only if the leader or members of the board include foreign nationals. Such foreign associations may receive only temporary authorizations, subject to periodic renewal and other conditions. The law does not prohibit national associations from having foreign nationals as members.

Public schools do not offer religious education. There is no law prohibiting or limiting religious education in public or private schools.

The government requires a permit for all public demonstrations, including religious events such as outdoor worship services.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

According to Muslim leaders, nationality determination issues continued to affect the Muslim community members, but to a lesser extent than in previous years. The code of nationality promulgated in 2017 did not address the problem of children born of two stateless parents. These individuals remained unable to obtain citizenship, even after several generations of residence in the country. Under the nationality code, children with unknown parentage are to be evaluated based on appearance, ethnicity, and other factors. The 2017 changes in the code, however, allow mothers to confer nationality on their children, which Muslim leaders said appeared to ease the nationality determination problem somewhat. Muslim leaders continued to state the law affected the Muslim community disproportionately, since many members are descendants of immigrants and are unable to acquire citizenship, despite generations of residence in the country. Children of ethnic Indian, Pakistani, and Comorian descent often had difficulty obtaining citizenship, leaving a disproportionate number of Muslims stateless. A 2014 study estimated that approximately 6 percent of individuals in the communities surveyed were stateless and of this number, more than 85 percent were born in the country.

The government issued a decree in February declaring Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha as national holidays. In previous years, only Muslims were granted paid leave on these holidays. At the request of the Muslim community, the government changed the date of the Eid al-Fitr holiday from June 4 to June 5 to align with the sighting of the new moon.

In September Antananarivo city officials ordered the temporary closing of the Vahao ny Oloko (Release my People) evangelical Christian Church due to what it stated were complaints from neighbors of excessive noise throughout the day and at night. After a site visit in October, officials allowed the partial reopening of the church on Saturdays and Wednesdays. Church leaders said city officials restricted their freedom of religion by preventing them from supporting church members through constant prayer and that they had taken steps to reduce noise levels, such as improving sound proofing and ceasing night prayers. Church leaders stated the local government discriminated against their community, noting that officials did not restrict the activities of other religious groups whose worship activities also produced noise outside their premises, such as worship services accompanied by ringing bells.

The Ministry of the Interior registered 15 new religious groups during the year, a decrease from 49 new groups the previous year, bringing the total to a reported 373 officially registered groups. Religious groups stated the government did not always enforce registration requirements and did not deny requests for registration. In addition, the government acknowledged that some registered groups may have become inactive or had dissolved without informing the government.

Religious leaders continued to state that inadequate government enforcement of labor laws resulted in some employers requiring their employees to work during religious services. Faith-based social centers receiving vulnerable workers and labor unions continued to report that employers failed to respect the labor code provisions requiring a 24-hour break weekly, which affected factory workers’ ability to attend worship services.

The leadership of the Muslim Malagasy Association, which states it represents all Muslims in the country, reported some Muslims continued to encounter difficulty obtaining official documents, such as national identity cards and passports, because of their Arabic-sounding names.

State-run Malagasy National Television continued to provide free broadcasting to the Seventh-day Adventist Church and to Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans, and Presbyterians on weekends, along with the Muslim community once a week. During Ramadan, the Muslim community was able to purchase additional broadcast time. The leader of a well-known local evangelical Protestant church again reported his church rarely received access to the state-run television and radio, even if it agreed to pay for the broadcast time.


Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 20.5 million (midyear 2019 estimate); the 2018 Malawi Population and Housing Census estimated the total population at 17.6 million. According to the 2018 census, 77.3 percent of the population is Christian and 13.8 percent Muslim. Christian denominations include Roman Catholics at 17.2 percent of the total population, Central Africa Presbyterians at 14.2 percent, Seventh-day Adventist/Seventh-day Baptists (the survey groups the two into one category) at 9.4 percent, Anglicans at 2.3 percent, and Pentecostals at 7.6 percent. Another 26.6 percent fall under the “other Christians” category. Individuals stating no religious affiliation are 2.1 percent, and 5.6 percent represent other religious groups, including Hindus, Baha’is, Rastafarians, Jews, and Sikhs.

The vast majority of Muslims are Sunni. Most Sunnis of African descent follow the Shafi’i school of Islamic legal thought, while the smaller community of mostly ethnic Asians mostly follows the Hanafi school. There is also a small number of Shia Muslims, mostly of Lebanese origin.

According to the 2018 census, there are two majority-Muslim districts, Mangochi (72.6 percent) and Machinga (66.9 percent). These neighboring districts at the southern end of Lake Malawi account for more than half of all Muslims in the country. Most other Muslims live near the shores of Lake Malawi. Christians are present throughout the country.

Traditional cultural practices with a spiritual dimension are sometimes practiced by Christians and Muslims. For example, the gule wamkulu spirit dancers remain of importance among ethnic Chewas, who are concentrated in the central region of the country.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion and provides for freedom of conscience, religion, belief, and thought. These rights may be limited only when the president declares a state of emergency.

The law states that holders of broadcast licenses “shall not broadcast any material which is…offensive to the religious convictions of any section of the population.”

Religious groups must register with the government to be recognized as legal entities. To do so, groups must submit documentation detailing the structure and mission of their organization and pay a fee of 1,000 kwacha ($1). The government reviews the application for administrative compliance only. According to the government, registration does not constitute endorsement of religious beliefs, nor is it a prerequisite for religious activities. Registration allows a religious group to acquire land, rent property in its own name, and obtain utility services such as water and electricity.

The law authorizes religious groups, regardless of registration status, to import certain goods duty free. These include religious paraphernalia, vehicles used for worship-related purposes, and office equipment. In practice, however, the Ministry of Finance rarely grants duty exemptions even to registered groups.

Detainees have a right to consult with a religious counselor of their choice.

Religious instruction is mandatory in public primary schools, with no opt-out provision, and is available as an elective in public secondary schools. According to the constitution, eliminating religious intolerance is a goal of education. In some schools, the religious curriculum is a Christian-oriented “Bible knowledge” course, while in others it is an interfaith “moral and religious education” course drawing from the Christian, Islamic, Hindu, and Baha’i faiths. According to the law, local school management committees, elected at parent-teacher association meetings, decide on which religious curriculum to use. Private Christian and Islamic schools offer religious instruction in their respective faiths. Hybrid “grant-aided” schools are managed by private, usually religious, institutions, but their teaching staffs are paid by the government. In exchange for this financial support, the government chooses a significant portion of the students who attend. At grant-aided schools, a board appointed by the school’s operators decides whether the “Bible knowledge” or the “moral and religious education” curriculum will be used.

Foreign missionaries are required to have employment permits.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

QMAM reported that some female students were asked to remove their hijab in order to have their pictures taken for the secondary school examination identification cards. Muslim organizations also continued to request the education ministry to discontinue use of the “Bible knowledge” course and use only the broader-based “moral and religious education” curriculum in primary schools, particularly in predominantly Muslim areas. According to Saiti Jambo, QMAM executive director, the issue arose most frequently in grant-aided, Catholic-operated schools.

According to media reports, conflicts often arose related to school dress codes prescribing a particular uniform and appearance that did not allow female students to wear the hijab. Beginning in October, a disagreement between the Anglican parish and Muslim communities in Balaka (a district in the southern part of the country) arose over the wearing of hijabs by Muslim female students attending Anglican schools receiving government funds. Four Anglican primary schools were closed for as long as eight weeks due to the standoff. Fighting between the groups broke out in early November after two Muslim girls wearing the hijab were prevented from attending a government school run by the Anglican Church, the M’manga Primary School, which is located in a part of the country where Muslims are the largest religious group.

On November 5, the Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology clarified its stand on wearing the hijab by Muslim female students as being a “nondiscrimination approach” that allows religious dress in schools. The ministry added that concerns about dress codes in schools run by faith-based organizations were forwarded to PAC for consultations, which PAC Publicity Secretary Bishop Gilford Matongax said would help the government in responding to concerns.

In November Alhaji Twaibe Lawe, secretary general of the Muslim Association of Malawi (MAM), the largest Muslim association in the country, said the Department of Road Traffic and Safety Services would allow women to wear the hijab for their driver’s license photograph; some photographers from the department previously had asked women to remove their hijabs before taking the photographs.

The court case that commenced in 2017 of a Rastafarian child who was selected through a highly competitive process to attend Malindi Secondary School in Zomba and then denied enrollment due to his dreadlocks continued during the year. A hearing scheduled for December 3 did not take place because the judge was not available. The Malawi Human Rights Commission officially joined the case as a plaintiff in 2018, filing an amicus brief on behalf of the student. National school policy usually requires children to wear closely shaven hair to attend. In January 2017 the solicitor general affirmed Rastafarian children’s constitutional rights to education. The child was allowed to attend school with dreadlocks after the Zomba High Court ordered in December 2017 that he be enrolled pending the conclusion of litigation initiated by the Malawi Women Lawyers Association on his behalf. The attorney for the student stated she had accepted a second case of a Rastafarian student denied school access because of dreadlocks in December and was working to consolidate the cases. She had requested that the existing injunction be broadened to cover all Rastafarian students.

Rastafarians continued to object to the laws making use and possession of cannabis a criminal offense in country, stating its use is a part of their religious doctrine.

Religious organizations and leaders regularly expressed their opinions on political issues, and their statements received coverage in the media. In April prior to general elections in May, the Nkhoma Synod of the Central Africa Presbyterian Church (CCAP) released a pastoral letter condemning endemic corruption, discouraging political violence, and calling on the Malawi Electoral Commission to avoid election fraud and rigging. In June following the elections, the Livingstonia Synod of the CCAP released a preliminary statement saying that the elections were generally free but that the synod was unable to attest to their credibility and fairness.

Most government meetings and events began and ended with a prayer, usually Christian in nature. At larger events, government officials generally invited clergy of different faiths to participate.

On May 4, PAC facilitated an event entitled “National Prayers for Peaceful Elections,” inviting leaders of multiple faiths to address the audience. All presidential candidates were present except the incumbent. The candidates signed a peace declaration during the prayers.


Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 27.92 million (midyear 2019 estimate). According to 2019 Mozambique government census data, 26.2 percent of citizens are Roman Catholic, 18.3 percent Muslim, 15.1 percent Zionist Christian, 14.7 percent evangelical/Pentecostal, 1.6 percent Anglican, and 4.7 percent Jewish, Hindu, and Baha’i. The remaining 13.4 percent did not list a religious affiliation. According to Christian and Muslim religious leaders, a significant portion of the population adheres to syncretic indigenous religious beliefs, characterized by a combination of African traditional practices and aspects of either Christianity or Islam, a category not included in government estimates. Muslim leaders continued to state that their community accounts for 25-30 percent of the total population, a statistic frequently reported in the press. The Muslim population is concentrated in the northern part of the country.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution defines the country as a secular state. It prohibits religious discrimination, provides for the right of citizens to practice or not practice a religion, and stipulates that no individual may be deprived of his or her rights because of religious faith or practice. Political parties are constitutionally prohibited from using names or symbols associated with religious groups. The constitution protects places of worship and the right of religious groups to organize, worship, and pursue their religious objectives freely and to acquire assets in pursuit of those objectives. The constitution recognizes the right of conscientious objection to military service for religious reasons. These and other rights may temporarily be suspended or restricted only in the event of a declaration of a state of war, siege, or emergency, in accordance with the terms of the constitution.

The law requires all NGOs to register with the Ministry of Justice, Constitutional, and Religious Affairs. Under the law, “religious organizations” are charities or humanitarian organizations, whereas “religious groups” refer to particular denominations. Religious groups register at the denominational level or congregational level if they are unaffiliated. Religious groups and organizations register by submitting an application, providing identity documents of their local leaders, and submitting documentation of declared ties to any international religious group or organization. There are no penalties for failure to register; however, religious groups and organizations must show evidence of registration to open bank accounts, file for exemption of customs duties for imported goods, or submit visa applications for visiting foreign members.

An accord between the national government and the Holy See governs the Catholic Church’s rights and responsibilities in the country. The agreement recognizes the Catholic Church as a “legal personality” and recognizes the Church’s exclusive right “to regulate ecclesiastical life and to nominate people for ecclesiastical posts.” The agreement requires Catholic Church representatives to register with the government to benefit from the Church’s status. The accord also gives the Catholic Church the exclusive right to create, modify, or eliminate ecclesiastical boundaries; however, it stipulates that ecclesiastical territories must report to a Church authority in the country.

The law permits religious organizations to own and operate schools. The law forbids religious instruction in public schools.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

The government responded to escalating violent attacks in the northernmost districts of Cabo Delgado Province by deploying security forces and arresting hundreds of individuals. Some NGOs and news media outlets continued to characterize these operations as heavy handed, potentially exacerbating existing grievances of what they termed to be already marginalized populations. Sources stated that the group perpetrating the attacks was not identified definitively, though it reportedly had links with ISIS as an affiliate of the Islamic State Central African Province. It is sometimes referred to locally as “al-Shabaab,” although sources stated there was no established connection to the East African al-Shabaab terrorist group, and it was composed primarily of individuals who followed what observers said was a strict version of Islam. The attacks, which began in October 2017, included killings of security force members, beheading of civilians, and theft and destruction to private property. As the attacks took place in a region of the country where Muslims predominated, many if not most of the civilian victims likely were Muslim as well, according to observers.

Members of the CISLAMO said the situation in Cabo Delgado was dire and that those who dressed in traditional Islamic clothing or wore beards risked detention on suspicion of involvement with what the government termed violent extremists. Council members said government security forces arbitrarily detained Muslim leaders, in some cases for months. They said CISLAMO representatives in Cabo Delgado secured their release by working with the authorities to identify individuals as belonging to the mainstream Muslim community and not to the “bandits” or “violent extremists.”

The government charged alleged participants in the Cabo Delgado violence with crimes including first degree murder, use of banned weapons, membership in a criminal association, and instigating collective disobedience against public order. The courts sentenced dozens of convicted participants in the Cabo Delgado Province attacks to jail terms of up to 40 years. In April more than 100 detained suspects were acquitted or released due to lack of evidence. Representatives of international organizations with access to the region continued to state they believed the number of individuals arrested was higher than that reported by the government.

Human rights organizations said the government continued policies that inhibited reliable reporting in the northern region. Reporting on the attacks remained limited and was often characterized as unreliable due to a strong security force presence and what journalists termed a government-imposed media blackout in the region.

President Filipe Nyusi and other high level government officials publicly denounced the perpetrators of the violence in Cabo Delgado as “evildoers” and rejected a link between Islam and the violence. According to CISLAMO, the Muslim community has forged a reliable partnership with the government to address the challenge.

Minister of Justice, Constitutional, and Religious Affairs Joaquim Veríssimo raised concerns in June about the proliferation of religious groups, especially unregistered groups and those the government said it believed to be promoting harmful practices. The government subsequently prepared a draft law that that would create a code of conduct for religious leaders and would require religious groups to have a minimum of 500 followers in order to register with the Ministry of Justice. The Jewish community requested an exemption due to the very small number of adherents in country, estimated to be fewer than several hundred. The government stated it intended to conduct consultations on the draft law with religious groups. There were no reports of difficulty with religious groups registering with the Ministry of Justice.

In August Pope Francis met with President Nyusi and other government officials, as well as an interfaith delegation of religious leaders and youth during a three-day visit to the capital. The pope conveyed a message of reconciliation and warned that violence only created more problems and encouraged Mozambicans to choose a better, “more noble” path. He expressed hope that peace would prevail and become the new norm, and that reconciliation was the best road to overcome the difficulties and challenges the nation faces. He called the conflict between the government and the opposition Renamo group a conflict between “brothers,” while acknowledging that together they shared a common destiny and a common land. In doing so, the pope highlighted the roles each side must play to achieve durable peace and prosperity. President Nyusi echoed the theme of reconciliation and promised to “reunite the Mozambican family” to create an environment of peace and stability. Religious leaders called the visit an expression of the interfaith harmony in the country.


Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 2.6 million (midyear 2019 estimate). According to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, approximately 97 percent of the population identifies as Christian. According to church statistics and the government’s 2013 Demographic and Health Survey, approximately 50 percent identify as Lutheran and 20 percent as Catholic. Other groups, including Anglican, various Reformed denominations, Adventist, Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal, evangelicals, charismatics, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, make up the remaining 27 percent of the population that is Christian. The number of Pentecostal and charismatic churches is growing. Some Zionist churches combine Christianity and traditional African beliefs. Muslims, Baha’is, Jews, Buddhists, atheists, and other non-Christians together constitute approximately 3 percent of the population and reside primarily in urban areas.

Many members of the Himba and San ethnic groups combine indigenous religious beliefs with Christianity. Muslims are mostly Sunni and are predominantly immigrants from elsewhere in Africa, South Asia, or recent converts.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution specifies the country is a secular state, prohibits religious discrimination, and provides for freedom of thought, conscience, and belief, as well as the right to enjoy, practice, profess, maintain, and promote any religion. These rights may be subject to “reasonable restrictions” justified by interests such as “the sovereignty and integrity of Namibia, national security, public order, decency, or morality.”

The law allows recognition of any religious group as a voluntary association, without the need to register with the government. Religious groups may also register as nonprofit organizations (an “association without gain”) with the Ministry of Industrialization, Trade, and SME (small to medium enterprise) Development. Both religious groups registered as nonprofit organizations and religious groups formed as voluntary associations are exempt from paying taxes. A welfare organization may apply to the Department of Inland Revenue to receive tax-exempt status. Once registered as a welfare organization, a religious group may seek to obtain land at a reduced rate, which is at the discretion of traditional authorities or town councils, based on whether they believe the organization’s use of the land will benefit the community.

The constitution permits religious groups to establish private schools provided no student is denied admission based on creed. The government school curriculum contains a nonsectarian “religious and moral education” component that includes education on moral principles and human rights and introduces students to a variety of African traditions and religions, as well as world religions such as Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, the Baha’i Faith, and Rastafarianism.

Similar to other foreigners seeking to work in the country, religious workers must obtain a work visa. There is no separate religious worker visa.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

The government Office of the Ombudsman received religion-related complaints during the year from convicted inmates at a Windhoek correctional facility who stated that the Namibian Correction Services did not allow them to update their religious affiliation and meet with Muslim clergy after they converted to Islam. A Muslim member of the interfaith council said that prison officials denied access to the leadership of his mosque to Muslim prisoners during Ramadan. He said Namibian Correctional Services had not allowed recent converts to update their religious affiliation in prison records, which was the reason for the denial of access. The Office of the Ombudsman received complaints from two inmates who stated they were denied access to Muslim clergy. Additionally, a Muslim Egyptian citizen complained to the Office of the Ombudsman about being denied halal meals during his pretrial detention.

The government periodically included religious leaders in discussions regarding issues affecting the country and in national events. President Hage Geingob held both formal and ad hoc consultations with leaders from major religious groups in the country, including the interfaith council, the Council of Churches that represented Christian denominations such as the Evangelical Lutheran Church, Dutch Reformed Church, and Roman Catholic Church, and from the Muslim community, to discuss opportunities for collaboration in fighting poverty.

Religious leaders continued to state that they occasionally faced problems with the government regarding visas. The interfaith council’s Baha’i representative said that religious volunteers had difficulty obtaining visas due to their work not clearly falling into any of the country’s visa categories. The religious leaders stated nonreligious organizations also had difficulty obtaining visas and did not believe they were targeted by the government based on religion.

South Africa

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 55.9 million (midyear 2019 estimate). According to a 2010 Pew Research Center report, 81 percent of the population is Christian. Approximately 15 percent of the population adheres to no particular religion or declined to indicate an affiliation; some of these individuals likely adhere to indigenous beliefs. Muslims constitute 1.7 percent of the population, of whom the great majority are Sunni. Shia religious leaders estimate that not more than 3 percent of the Muslim population is Shia. Hindus, Jews, Buddhists, and adherents of traditional indigenous beliefs together constitute less than 4 percent of the population. Many indigenous persons adhere to a belief system combining Christian and indigenous religious practices. The Church of Scientology estimates it has approximately 100,000 members.

The Pew Research Center estimates 84 percent of the Christian population is Protestant, 11 percent Roman Catholic, and 5 percent other denominations (2010 estimate). African independent churches constitute the largest group of Christian churches, including the Zion Christian Church (approximately 11 percent of the population), the Apostolic Church (approximately 10 percent), and a number of Pentecostal and charismatic groups. Other Christian groups include Methodists, Anglicans, Baptists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Seventh-day Adventists, and members of the Greek Orthodox, Dutch Reformed, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Assemblies of God, and Congregational Churches.

Persons of Indian or other Asian heritage account for 2.5 percent of the total population. Approximately half of the ethnic Indian population is Hindu, and the majority resides in KwaZulu-Natal Province. The Muslim community includes Cape Malays of Malayan-Indonesian descent, individuals of Indian or Pakistani descent, and approximately 70,000 Somali nationals and refugees. The SAJBD estimates the Jewish community at 60,000 persons, the majority of whom live in Johannesburg and Cape Town.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and belief, including the right to form, join, and maintain religious associations. It prohibits religious discrimination and specifies freedom of expression does not extend to advocacy of hatred based on religion. The constitution permits legislation recognizing systems of personal and family law to which persons professing a particular religion adhere. It also allows religious observances in state or state-supported institutions, provided they are voluntary and conducted on an equitable basis. These rights may be limited for reasons that are “reasonable and justifiable in an open and democratic society based on human dignity, equality, and freedom” and take account of “all relevant factors.” Cases of discrimination against persons on the grounds of religion may be taken to Equality Courts, the South African Human Rights Commission, and the Constitutional Court. The constitution also provides for the promotion and respect of languages used for religious purposes, including, but not limited to, Arabic, Hebrew, and Sanskrit.

The constitution establishes and governs the operation of the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious, and Linguistic Communities (CRL) with the mission of fostering the rights of communities to freely observe and practice their cultures, religions, and language. The CRL is an independent national government institution whose chair is appointed by the president and whose commissioners include members of the clergy, scholars, and politicians, among others.

The law does not require religious groups to register; however, registered religious and other nonprofit groups may qualify as public benefit organizations, allowing them to open bank accounts and exempting them from paying income tax. To register as a public benefit organization, groups must submit a nonprofit organization application, including their constitution, contact information, and list of officers and documentation stating they meet a number of prescribed requirements that largely ensure accounting and tax compliance, to the provincial social development office. A group registers once with the local office but its status then applies nationwide. Once registered, the group must submit annual reports on any changes to this information, important achievements and meetings, and financial information, as well as an accountant’s report.

The government allows but does not require religious education in public schools but prohibits advocating the tenets of a particular religion.

The law allows for marriages to be conducted under customary law; however, it applies only to “those customs and usages traditionally observed among the indigenous African people” and may be performed by all religious groups and their leaders.

The constitution grants detained persons visitation rights with their chosen religious counselor.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

In March the Pretoria High Court ordered the Dutch Reformed Church to allow individual church councils to recognize and bless same-sex relationships and to employ noncelibate gay clergy. The case effectively ended the Church’s 2016 policy banning LGBTI persons from marrying or becoming clergy, according to civil society activists. In September the Church’s General Synod adopted a policy “in which everyone’s human dignity is respected.” The synod’s decision allowed councils and ministers to “confirm civil unions between persons of the same sex” and called for the licensing of theological students without regard to their “race, gender, class, or sexual orientation and identity.”

In June the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) charged an officer with disobedience for refusing to remove her religious headscarf. Major Fatima Isaacs worked in SANDF for more than a decade and always wore the Islamic garment under her military beret. According to her attorney, Isaacs received permission to wear her hijab from senior officers. One “colonel had continuously refused her request until he served her with a final written warning for repeatedly disobeying a lawful instruction,” the attorney said. In August SANDF gave Isaacs interim relief while it reviewed its dress code. In November the case was postponed to January 2020.

In September the CRL denounced a public school in Alberton, Gauteng for promoting a specific religion. The CRL cited a 2017 ruling by the High Court in Johannesburg that found it unconstitutional for Laerskool Randhart and other public schools to promote one religion over others. A parent complained to the CRL that the school continued to hold Monday morning Bible reading and prayer along with Wednesday religious periods featuring a teacher from a church. “The outcome of the High Court matter is quite explicit about this because it said that schools have the right to determine access to any religion, but any preference given to one religion is not permitted,” said CRL Chair Luka David Mosoma.

Also in September, in a case brought by the NGO Freedom of Religion SA, the Constitutional Court ruled that parents may not spank their children. The case concerned a father convicted in 2016 of assaulting his 13-year-old son and upheld an earlier ruling by the High Court to do away with the common-law defense of reasonable chastisement when spanking a child. The Constitutional Court found that “violence meted out to the son… took the form of vicious kicking and punching… The father could not… [have] relied on any religious or cultural ground to justify that unmistakably immoderate and unreasonable application of force…The application of force or a resort to violence, which could be harmful or abused, cannot in circumstances where there is an effective non-violent option available be said to be consonant with the best interests of the child.” The court charged parliament with devising an appropriate regulatory framework to implement the decision and stated, “The aim is not to prosecute parents but to get them to parent better. The removal of the defense does not mean that all cases of parental corporal punishment mean automatic or frequent prosecution of parents.” Freedom of Religion SA argued that “there is a clear distinction between violence or abuse, and mild (non-injurious) physical correction.” Freedom of Religion SA’s attorney said the judgment “sets a very dangerous precedent in that the State can dictate to people of faith how to read and live out the Scriptures, thereby seriously eroding their right to religious freedom.”

According to media, the Johannesburg Metro Police (JMPD) closed at least 16 churches for not complying with city bylaws regarding noise and fire safety. JMPD also created a forum with church leaders to raise awareness about the municipal code. “Rogue churches, they will never be allowed,” JMPD head David Tembe told the private broadcaster eNCA.

In February the then minister of cooperative governance and traditional affairs urged the CRL to “protect the public against abuse in the name of religion” after a video clip of a pastor allegedly raising someone from the dead was widely distributed on the internet. In July the new CRL chair stated that “the issue of regulation of religion is still on the plate… Parliament will have to take a position on whether religion is regulated or not.” Several groups, including the Southern Africa Catholic Bishops’ Conference, the nonprofit Christian organization Freedom of Religion South Africa (FORSA), and the International Institute for Religious Freedom, stated their continued opposition to a 2016 CRL legislative proposal requiring religious groups to register, stating it would restrict their religious freedom. The proposal would require religious groups to register formally with the government and would create a peer review council, consisting of representatives from various religious groups, which would grant organizations and individual religious leaders’ permission to operate. In 2018 the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs announced that every comment it had received from the religious community opposed the CRL proposal. No member of the committee recommended that the CRL proposal be forwarded for adoption by parliament. According to media, the legislative proposal was prompted by the CRL’s 2016 investigation that revealed some independent church leaders instructed their congregations to eat live snakes, expose their faces to insect repellant, drink gasoline, and pay large sums of money to receive blessings and miracles. The proposal remained with the parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs at year’s end.

In 2018 the Department of Justice introduced to parliament a hate crimes and hate speech bill that would criminalize any action or statement motivated by bias or hatred towards an individual based upon a number of categories, including his or her ethnic, national, religious, or sexual identity; health status; employment status or type; or physical ability. The bill would provide law enforcement officials and courts increased authority to arrest and punish offenders, and it would mandate prison sentences of up to three years for first-time offenses. Opponents to the bill, including religious figures, media representatives, and civil society and NGOs, argued the bill’s definition of hate crimes and speech was too vague and could potentially restrict freedom of religion and speech. The draft legislation was expected to be debated in parliament in early 2020, according to media reports.

Twin brothers Brandon Lee Thulsie and Tony Lee Thulsie continued to await trial on charges of contravening the Protection of Constitutional Democracy Against Terror and Related Activities. The brothers, along with two others who were alleged to have links to ISIS, were arrested in 2016 for allegedly planning to set off explosives at the U.S. Embassy in Pretoria and Jewish institutions in the country. Their trial was expected to begin in March 2020.


Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the population at 16.9 million (midyear 2019 estimate). The Zambia Statistics Agency estimates the population at 17.9 million. According to estimates, 95.5 percent of the country is Christian; of these, 75.3 percent identify as Protestant and 20.2 percent as Roman Catholic. Protestant groups with the largest numbers of adherents include the Anglican Church, evangelical Christians, and Pentecostal groups. According to official statistics, approximately 2.7 percent of the population is Muslim, with smaller numbers of Hindus, Baha’is, Buddhists, Jews, and Sikhs. Muslim leaders in the country contest these figures and provide estimates ranging from less than 1 percent to more than 20 percent. Small numbers of the population adhere to other belief systems, including indigenous religions and witchcraft, or hold no religious beliefs. Many persons combine Christianity and indigenous beliefs.

Muslims, both Sunni and Shia, are primarily concentrated in Lusaka, Eastern, and Copperbelt Provinces. Many are immigrants from South Asia, Somalia, and the Middle East who have acquired citizenship. Hindus, mostly of South Asian descent, are located largely in the Eastern, Copperbelt, and Lusaka Provinces and estimate the size of their community at approximately 10,000. There are small numbers of Jews, mostly in Lusaka and Northern Province.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution declares the country to be a Christian nation but upholds freedom of conscience, belief, and religion for all persons. It prohibits discrimination based on religion and provides for the right of individuals to manifest and propagate religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice, and observance. It protects the freedom of individuals to change their religion or belief. It states no one shall be compelled to take an oath or perform acts contrary to his or her religious beliefs. The law prescribes legal recourse against, and penalties of fines and imprisonment for, violations of religious freedom.

Under the law, naming or accusing a person as being a witch or wizard is a criminal offense punishable either by fine or imprisonment of up to one year, while those that profess knowledge of witchcraft may face up to two years’ imprisonment. The law has an exception for those who report such allegations to the police.

The MNGRA has a mandate to provide oversight on all matters relating to national guidance and religious affairs in the country. The ministry’s functions include strengthening the declaration of the country as a Christian nation, developing self-regulatory frameworks for church and religious umbrella groups, promoting interdenominational dialogue, preserving religious heritage sites, and coordinating public religious celebrations, such as the commemoration of the declaration as a Christian nation (December 29), the National Day of Prayer (October 18), and World Prayer Day (first Friday in March). The ministry’s mandate also includes ensuring Christian values are reflected in government, education, family, media, arts and entertainment, and business, as well as promoting church-state, interdenominational, and interfaith dialogue.

During the year, there was a moratorium on the registration of new churches and religious groups until the ministry fully operationalizes a new regulatory framework for religious organizations, which it said it would launch in 2020. All religious groups are required to affiliate with an umbrella body, often referred to as a “mother body,” which gathers individual churches and denominations under one administrative authority. There are 14 mother bodies: seven Christian and seven non-Christian. These are the Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops (ZCCB), Council of Churches in Zambia (CCZ), Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia (EFZ), Independent Churches of Zambia, Apostles Council of Churches, Seventh-day Adventist Church, Christian Missions in Many Lands, Islamic Supreme Council of Zambia, Hindu Association of Zambia, Guru Nanak Council of Zambia, Jewish Board of Deputies Zambia, Rastafarians, Council for Zambia Jewry, and Baha’i Faith in Zambia. The largest are ZCCB, EFZ, and CCZ.

The minister of home affairs retains the discretion to register any religious entity. To register, a group must have a unique name, recommendation letter from its mother body, and a document of the clergy’s professional qualifications from a “recognized and reputable” theological school, but the government provides no specific definition or list of qualifying institutions. The Office of the Chief Registrar of Societies then conducts a preliminary assessment of the applicant’s authenticity and religious purpose as well as a security check. Religious groups must pay a one-time fee of 3,000 kwacha ($210) to establish registration and 100 kwacha ($7) every first quarter of the year to retain it. They are also required to adhere to laws pertaining to labor, employment practices, and criminal conduct.

All religious groups holding a public event outside of normal worship or prayer services are required to obtain prior clearance from the MNGRA. The religious group must prove membership in a mother body and submit a validation letter and documentation of its activities to the ministry. After granting approval, the ministry instructs law enforcement authorities under the Ministry of Home Affairs to allow the religious group to hold an event or activity.

The minister of home affairs has the legal authority to revoke the registration of religious groups. Grounds for revocation include failure to pay registration fees or a finding by the minister that the group has professed purposes or has taken or intends to take actions that run counter to the interests of “peace, welfare, or good order.” Groups may appeal this finding in the courts. The government has the authority to levy fines and prison sentences of up to seven years against unregistered religious groups and their members; there were no reported cases involving prison sentences or fines levied during the year.

The MNGRA may make a recommendation to the tax authority for consideration of tax exemptions for religious groups. The recommendation is based on a group’s long-term record and profile of community social work. The law provides for privileged tax treatment for public benefit organizations, including religious groups, provided they are established for the promotion of religion, education, and relief of poverty or other distress.

The constitution allows religious groups the right to establish and maintain private schools and provide religious instruction to members of their religious communities. The government requires religious instruction in all schools from grades one through nine. Students may request education in their religion and may opt out of religious instruction only if the school is not able to accommodate their request. Religious education after grade nine is optional and not offered at all schools. The religious curriculum at this level focuses on Christian teachings but also incorporates comparative studies of Islam, Hinduism, and traditional beliefs.

The MNGRA must approve the entry into the country of foreign missionaries or clergy. The ministry, in collaboration with the Immigration Department, may approve or deny permits and visas for travelers coming into the country for religious activities. For any foreign clergy entering the country, religious groups must provide their proof of legal registration as a religious group in the country, a recommendation letter from their aligned umbrella body, and clearance from clergy in the country of origin. This documentation is presented to the Ministry of Home Affairs, Immigration Department, and the MNGRA.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

The MNGRA approved a new regulatory framework for churches and religious organizations, which it said it will begin implementing in 2020. Under the new framework, all religious organizations will be required to register through the Office of the Registrar of Societies in the Ministry of Home Affairs. The framework requires formal theological training for clergy and stipulates that only religious organizations affiliated with recognized umbrella bodies may be registered to operate in the country. It also requires that each church and umbrella body have mechanisms in place to ensure compliance with registration requirements.

According to the MNGRA, the framework was necessitated by the proliferation of new churches and religious groups, the increasing phenomenon of self-ordination, insufficient transparency and accountability, lack of compliance by churches with the law, and abuse of power and authority by religious institutions. In August Minister of National Guidance and Religious Affairs Godfridah Sumaili said the framework would help make churches more financially accountable and regulate the conduct of clergy.

Religious and civil society leaders had mixed reactions to the government’s regulatory framework. Some representatives of religious groups stated they considered the move as a form of interference, noting that individual churches have codes of conduct and other internal disciplinary guidelines for their clergy. Others said they believed the requirement for clergy to undergo some form of theological training was “long overdue.” According to the MNGRA, introducing the framework would provide a “self-regulation” mechanism that will help churches and other religious umbrella bodies manage their respective affiliates and ensure compliance with acceptable codes of conduct and practices consistent with their teachings.

In June the government presented a bill of proposed constitutional amendments to parliament; it remained pending in parliament at year’s end. The draft bill included provisions that aim to “strengthen” the country’s status as a Christian – rather than multireligious – nation and includes “Christian morality and ethics” as a guiding constitutional principle. Legal and religious observers, including the Muslim community and the ZCCB, expressed concern the proposed amendments could fuel religious intolerance. National Guidance and Religious Affairs Minister Godfridah Sumaili said the proposed amendments were intended to codify the declaration of the country as a Christian nation and would not affect non-Christians.

During the year, the MNGRA continued to expand the number of umbrella bodies, an action it said was intended to allow more minority groups to join existing umbrella bodies or form their own. While some religious groups welcomed the expansion, others viewed it as a strategy to undermine the prominent role that some church mother bodies play in drawing attention to social and governance issues.

Catholic and Protestant church mother bodies, along with leaders of numerous minority religious groups, continued to oppose the existence of the MNGRA, whose mandate they said remained unclear. They stated that guiding religious groups should not be the province of politicians or the government. There were no new legislative actions during the year that more clearly specified the ministry’s role and responsibilities.

According to some religious groups, administrative regulations and requirements continued to impede the process of obtaining a permit to hold a religious gathering. These included obtaining a recommendation letter from a mother body and clearance from the MNGRA and Ministry of Home Affairs. Minority religious groups with no representative mother body stated they continued to have difficulty complying with regulations instituted by the MNGRA requiring all religious groups to associate with a mother body. While minority groups generally welcomed the idea of having their own umbrella groups, some said they felt pressured by the government to identify themselves with larger groups whose faith may not align well with theirs or may not adequately represent their interests. The ministry continued to hold consultative meetings with a range of Christian and minority religious groups on this issue during the year.

Other subjects discussed in the ministry’s consultations with religious groups included the commemoration of the constitutional amendment establishing the country as a Christian nation, the National Day of Prayer, the ministry’s strategic plan, legislation to support ministry policies such as the self-regulatory framework, and the proposed constitutional amendments.

Religious leaders stated the clearance procedures for foreign clergy entering the country remained laborious and bureaucratic, and posed an impediment to some activities of the religious groups.

Religious leaders reported pressure from both political representatives and, at times, politically aligned clergy members to maintain positive commentary about the government. Religious groups said some clergy members practiced self-censorship of comments on governance issues. According to religious leaders, clergy members who expressed dissenting views on governance or human rights were monitored by the government and labeled as “aligned” with the political opposition or publicly discredited.

On October 18, the government sponsored and organized the fifth National Day of Prayer and Fasting. President Edgar Lungu and other senior government officials, as well as representatives of the three main church mother bodies – the ZCCB, EFZ, and CCZ – attended the event. The government declared the day a national holiday, and businesses were encouraged to allow employees to attend prayer events. Although not explicitly stated, some government heads of departments and other senior government officials reportedly perceived attendance as mandatory. As in previous years, during the event, authorities banned liquor sales until 6 p.m.; sales are normally legal at 10 a.m. MNGRA officials said that the 2019 National Day of Prayer was more successful and inclusive than previous events in that it was well attended and that the clergy took the lead in organizing and leading the prayers. Some religious leaders said the event was politicized and “hijacked” by the government and military chaplains. In December, for example, retired Lusaka Catholic archbishop Telesphore Mpundu criticized the event, saying, “The president has no right to tell people when to go and pray or how they should pray.”

Prominent religious groups continued to state the government should not be involved in religious affairs, such as the national prayer days and building a 10,000-seat Interdenominational House of Prayer, which remained unfinished at the end of the year. The ZCCB stated it did not support construction of the National House of Prayer. The CCZ similarly observed that the Cathedral of the Holy Cross – which was built as a requirement to grant Lusaka city status prior to independence and has traditionally served as a site for interdenominational prayers – was sufficient and saw no need for a separate building for this purpose. According to MNGRA officials, the government remained resolute on completing construction by 2021 and during the year established an interministerial technical committee to oversee the project.


Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 14.5 million (midyear 2019 estimate). According to the 2015 nationwide Demographic and Health Survey conducted by the government statistics agency, 86 percent of the population is Christian, 11 percent reports no religious affiliation, less than 2 percent adheres uniquely to traditional beliefs, and less than 1 percent is Muslim. According to the survey, of the total population, 37 percent is Apostolic, 21 percent Pentecostal, 16 percent other Protestant, 7 percent Roman Catholic, and 5 percent other Christian.

While there are no reliable statistics regarding the percentage of the Christian population that is syncretic, many Christians also associate themselves with traditional practices, and religious leaders reported a continued increase in syncretism.

Most of the Muslim population lives in rural areas and some high-density suburbs, with smaller numbers living in other suburban neighborhoods. There are also small numbers of Greek Orthodox, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, and Baha’is.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution prohibits discrimination based on religious belief and provides for freedom of religion and the freedom to practice, propagate, and give expression to one’s religion, in public or in private and alone or with others. It recognizes the right of prisoners to communicate with and receive visits by their chosen religious counselor. It stipulates these rights may be limited by a law during a state of emergency or by a law taking into account, among other things, the interests of defense; public safety, order, morality, or health; regional or town planning; or the general public interest. Any such law must not impose greater restrictions on these rights than is necessary to achieve the purpose of the law. Although the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) restricts freedom of assembly, expression, and association in many cases, the act itself specifies that POSA was not meant to apply to public gatherings “held exclusively for bona fide religious, educational, recreational, sporting, or charitable purposes.” The Maintenance of Peace and Order (MOPO) Act, which became law in November and replaced POSA, maintains the same exception for religious purposes. The criminal code prohibits statements that are “insulting” or “grossly provocative” and that cause offense to persons of a particular race, tribe, place of origin, color, creed, or religion, or intend to cause such offense. Individuals convicted under this law are subject to a fine, imprisonment for a period not exceeding one year, or both.

The government does not require religious groups to register; however, religious groups operating schools or medical facilities must register those institutions with the appropriate ministry. Religious groups, as well as schools and medical facilities run by religious groups, may receive tax-exempt status. Religious groups may apply for tax-exempt status and duty-free privileges with the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (ZIMRA), which generally grants these requests. To obtain tax-exempt status, a group is required to bring a letter of approval from a church umbrella organization confirming the group’s status as a religious group. Examples of approval letter-granting organizations include the Catholic Bishops’ Conference, ZCC, and the Apostolic Christian Council of Zimbabwe. ZIMRA generally grants a certificate of tax-exempt status within two to three days.

The Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education sets curricula for public primary and secondary schools. Many public primary schools require a religious education course focusing on Christianity but including other religious groups with an emphasis on religious tolerance. There is no provision for opting out of religious instruction courses at the primary level. Students are able to opt out at the secondary level beginning at age 14, when they begin to choose their courses. The government does not regulate religious education in private schools but must approve employment of headmasters and teachers at those schools.

The law requires all international NGOs, including religiously affiliated NGOs, to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the government defining the NGO’s activities and zones of geographic activity. The law stipulates international NGOs “shall not digress into programs that are not specified in the MOU as agreed upon by line ministries and registered by the Registrar.” Local NGOs, including faith-based NGOs, have no legal requirements to sign an MOU with the government but “shall, prior to their registration, notify the local authorities of their intended operations.” The law gives the government the right to “deregister any private voluntary organization that fails to comply with its conditions of registration.”

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

In June Talent Farai Chiwenga, founder of Apostle T.F. Chiwenga Ministries, stated state security agents attempted to kill him for insulting Vice President and Minister of Defense General (retired) Constantino Chiwenga. On June 12, according to T.F. Chiwenga, his wife and a bodyguard died in a car accident that occurred after security agents ran them off the road. He suffered serious injuries in the crash but survived. In the days after the country’s November 2017 military-assisted transition, T.F. Chiwenga publicly stated that then general Constantino Chiwenga “was not fit to lead.” In a September 2018 sermon, T.F. Chiwenga told congregants he saw “two coffins that will bring this country to a standstill,” which sources said prompted many to believe he was referring to former president Mugabe and Vice President Constantino Chiwenga. The vice president publicly rebuked T.F. Chiwenga, accusing him of extortion and practicing satanism.

In January the government charged Pastor Evan Mawarire of His Generation Church with subversion for urging his followers via social media to protest the country’s deteriorating economy. A court dismissed the charges in November. In 2018 Mawarire filed a lawsuit against the Zimbabwe Republic Police for unlawful arrest and detention during his participation in 2017 antigovernment protests; the lawsuit remained pending at year’s end.

Civil society organizations reported the government continued to use security laws to monitor public events and prayer rallies of religious groups, but there were no reports of specific incidents or disruptions. Christian aid organizations and local NGOs focused on memorializing victims of the 1980s Gukurahundi mass killings of mainly Ndebele civilians said that security officials monitored their activities frequently throughout the year but generally did not interfere with their activities.

In February NGO Ibhetshu LikaZulu, an advocacy group in Matabeleland South that organizes memorial and prayer services to commemorate victims, built a memorial for Gukurahundi victims after the government twice blocked similar efforts in 2018. The organization’s Secretary General Mbolu Fuzwayo told local media that vandals destroyed the memorial a few days after its completion.

Religious activities and events remained free from POSA and MOPO restrictions, but observers stated the government continued to categorize as political some public gatherings, including religious gatherings such as prayer vigils and memorial services, perceived to be critical of the ruling party. In September the government allowed the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association to hold a series of prayer vigils for its president, Dr. Peter Magombeyi, who had gone missing. According to media, attendees reported a heavy presence of state security personnel at the services. Magombeyi was found outside Harare on September 19 and stated plainclothes government security officers had kidnapped and tortured him.

Multiple church organizations, including the Churches Convergence on Peace, ZCC, and Catholic Bishops’ Conference, released letters appealing for tolerance, national unity, peace, reconciliation, healing, and stability while calling on the government to uphold the constitution and protect citizens’ political rights. Deputy Information Minister Energy Mutodi made remarks on social media in October about ZCC General Secretary Kenneth Mtata, calling him a fool, a false prophet, and a demon possessed in response to Mtata’s call for the government to engage with the opposition in a national dialogue.

The legislature considered but had not yet passed a draft amendment to the Private Voluntary Organizations Act that would increase penalties for all NGOs, including faith-based NGOs, for failure to comply with registration requirements.

Most official state and school gatherings and functions included nondenominational Christian prayers, as did political party gatherings. In courts and when government officials entered office, individuals often swore on the Bible.

The government continued to enforce a 2018 ban on all radio and state-run television programs advertising prophets and traditional healing. Authorities said the ban was a response to increases in fraud. Government officials stated the constitution protected freedom of worship, but the regulatory authority retained the right to protect believers from abuse. Media reports stated some church leaders welcomed the ban because false prophets sometimes used their status to rape or defraud congregants. In February a court convicted Walter Magaya, the founder of Prophetic Healing Deliverance Ministries, of fraud for falsely claiming he discovered a cure for HIV.

Churches reported working with Zimbabwe Prison and Correctional Services to help improve living conditions in prison facilities.

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