Churches and other religious institutions in Zimbabwe will, with effect from this month, be allowed to import cars duty-free for religious duties and other related purposes, a cabinet minister announced on Thursday.
Speaking during the official launch of the National Tourism Policy at the Celebration Centre in Harare, Tourism and Hospitality Industry minister Walter Mzembi said the extension of Statutory Instruments (SI) 172 and 173 of 2013 to import duty-free motor vehicles for churches was part of government's efforts to promote religious tourism
"This is part of our commitment as government to ensure that churches are able to conduct their business, foster the growth of religious tourism and ensure their growth by giving them non-monetary benefits."
Before the extension, the two instruments – SI 172 and 173, only allowed players and operators in the tourism industry to import vehicles duty-free.
In 2009, government cancelled the statutory instruments which allowed the duty-free importation of vehicles following alleged abuse of the instrument, only to revive in 2013.
And in a show of commitment to religious tourism, Mzembi installed the honour of religious tourism destination to the Celebration Centre Church, joining the Masvingo-based Zion Christian Church, Mbungo (ZCC) building as the only other religious tour destination.
Mzembi said the award was based on the modern architecture of the church buildings that are by far the first of their kind in Zimbabwe.
"These are not just ordinary buildings but the refined modern architect skills combined with years of hard work. They have to be recognised and rewarded accordingly," Mzembi said.
The award was received by Celebration Church Senior Pastor Tom Dueschle.
With the continued improved status of modern architecture in religious buildings and places of worship, Zimbabwe is aiming to join other countries like Mali, where Timbuktu is recognised as a world heritage site and an intellectual and spiritual capital.
Timbuktu is classified under the world heritage sites list as a center for the propagation of Islam throughout Africa from the 15 and 16th centuries with its three great mosques, Djingareyber, Sankore and Sidi Yahia.
According to the World Tourism Organisation, an estimated 300 to 330 million pilgrims visit the world's key religious sites every year.
Zimbabwe has also seen growth and increasing number of Pentecostal churches led by various prophets who have grown to be popular with time.
These include Prophet Emmanuel Makandiwa of the United Family International Church, Walter Magaya of Prophetic Healing and Deliverance Ministries and charismatic preacher and leader of Spirit Embassy Church Prophet Uebert Angel, among others who also command large followings.