The Zimbabwe West Union Conference is a church administrative unit in the Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division of Seventh-day Adventists.
Territory: Southern portion of Zimbabwe; comprising the South Zimbabwe, and West Zimbabwe Conferences.1
Statistics (June 30, 2021): Churches, 456; membership, 271,159; population, 4,675,1212
The Seventh-day Adventist Church’s expansion advanced from the Cape Colony in South Africa to Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) with the establishment of a mission station at Solusi in Matabeleland in 1894. Previously, the denomination had had 130 members in South Africa when the South African Conference was organized in 1892, with Asa Theron Robinson as its first president (1892- 1898). The conference administration was situated at 28a Roeland St, Cape Town3. At that time, the South African Conference administered all Adventist Church activities in Southern Africa (and after 1902, by the South Africa Union Conference) with headquarters in Cape Town until 1916 when an administrative unit was organized in Rhodesia.
In 1916, the Rhodesia and Nyasaland Union Mission formed with its headquarters in Bulawayo. Becoming the Zambesi Union Mission in 1919, with a membership of 953, it administered the work in Bechuanaland (Botswana), Northern Rhodesia (Zambia), Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), and Nyasaland (Malawi). In 1925, leadership realigned the Zambesi Union Mission to focus on Northern and Southern Rhodesia, Bechuanaland, and the Caprivi Strip (northeastern part on Namibia) while maintaining its headquarters at Bulawayo. A new South-East African Union Mission would administer the church in Malawi, including Northeastern Rhodesia (part of Zambia), and Mozambique.4 Further reorganizations of the Zambesi Union Mission, some years later, enabled Northern Rhodesia (later known as the Zambia Field) to become the Zambia Union Mission in 1972, and Bechuanaland (then known as the Botswana Field) to become an attached field of the Trans-Africa Division on January 1, 1983, in preparation for attaining union mission status in 2003.
In Southern Rhodesia, specifically, the work grew quite fast, from the first organized church with a membership of 110 in 1916, to 509 churches with a membership of 241,130 in 1997, eight decades later, when the union mission became a union conference.5 It is interesting to note how the church transferred leadership from the American missionaries to South Africa staff, and finally to indigenous peoples. As it grew to the point of being self-supporting, it reached union conference status. The initial two fields created in 1964, namely, the Matabeleland/Midlands Field and the Mashonaland Field, increased to three in 1981, becoming the Eastern Zimbabwe, Central, and Western Zimbabwe Fields. Attaining local conference status in 1993, they were later restructured from three to six conferences, in preparation for transforming them into three union conferences within the same country.
Many believe that the tremendous growth of the church in Zimbabwe is the result of numerous Adventist schools around the country. Solusi, the mother of Adventist missions in Africa, started as a small mission station in 1894. It opened many primary and secondary schools, and today operates as Solusi University. All the educational centers contributed to the increase in church membership. Several medical clinics have also been established in Zimbabwe through the years. For example, the Adventist Dental Practice was established in 1972, Samahuru Clinic in 1992, and Solusi Clinic in 1999. Temeteme and Siachilaba clinics are currently under construction.
The development of the Adventist work in Rhodesia followed the political pattern of that time. The population comprised white people and indigenous blacks. It seemed practical to minister to white people by setting up a church in their locality. In working among the black people, churches were also formed in black communities. The local authorities of that time organized communities according to the existing races. Two other racial groups also existed in the country–those of the mixed-race (coloured) and the East Indians. They too had their churches in their settlements. For example, in Bulawayo, where the union mission headquarters is, residential areas developed as follows:
All white residential areas were in the eastern side of the city, and their church was situated in the city center along Jameson Street (now Herbert Chitepo St.).
Black African residences were in the western side of the city, hence their churches were initially in Makokoba and Pelandaba. Later, congregations appeared in Luveve, Pumula, Matshobana, and Tshabalala.
The mixed-race people’s residential areas were scattered but generally toward the western side of the city. Their churches were set up accordingly, at Barham Green, Trennance, and Thorngrove.
Work Among the White and Mixed-Race Communities
In 1929, the Rhodesia-Bechuanaland Conference was organized for the white members of the church under the leadership of E. C. Boger.6 In 1969, the Zambesi General Field developed as a separate entity for the mixed race (called "coloured" in South Africa) group under the leadership of F. G. Thomas.7 Later, in 1977 the white Rhodesia Conference and the coloured Zambesi General Field merged to form the Zambesi Conference under the leadership of H. C. Currie.8 Records indicate that union presidents such as F. G. Thomas and H. C. Currie also presided over the Zambesi Conference, a point confirmed by Pastor Robert Hall (now retired) who was a junior pastor at that time. Such leadership succession continued until 1993 when under the leadership of Abdul Ahomed, the three fields were organized into conferences without racial-based divisions.
Work Among the Black Communities
Beginning in 1921, the work among blacks came under the administration of the Southern Rhodesia Mission Field, led by R. F. Stockil. It continued until 1964, when leadership reorganized the mission into two fields, the Matabeleland/Midlands Field with 19 987 members, and Mashonaland Field with 7 268 members.9 During the next 17 years (1964-1981), the membership of the two fields almost doubled. In 1981, they restructured into the Eastern Zimbabwe Field with headquarters in Harare, the Central Zimbabwe Field with headquarters in Gweru, and the Western Zimbabwe Field with headquarters in Bulawayo.10
Changes Brought about by the Country’s Independence
Rhodesia’s attainment of political independence to become Zimbabwe in 1980 resulted in a positive income growth among the black church members, which enabled the three mission fields to attain conference status in 1993.11 The residential areas opened to allow citizens to reside anywhere without racial restrictions. Churches also accepted all races. Many white church members migrated outside the borders of Zimbabwe. The white and coloured Zambesi Conference was expected to merge with the East, Central, and West Fields formed in 1981. However, a few coloured members led by Abdul Ahomed resisted. He managed to convince a few blacks to join him, and the situation deteriorated into a fierce legal battle for church properties all the way to the High Court and Supreme Court of Zimbabwe. Both courts ruled that the properties belonged to the Seventh Day Adventist Association of Southern Africa (SDAASA). Although the Zambesi Conference finally dissolved, Abdul Ahomed formed the Sabbath Keepers Church.12
Zimbabwe Union Conference
The foreign missionaries who laid the foundation of Adventism in Zimbabwe passed on the leadership responsibility to the indigenous, which became clearly marked in 1986 through the appointment of R. R. Ndhlovu as the first black national to serve as president of the Zambesi Union Mission. The work expanded tremendously, resulting in fields reorganized as conferences, and the union missions becoming a union conference in 199713. Meanwhile, the union conference headquarters remained in Bulawayo at Stand Number 41 Lawley Road, Suburbs, having previously moved from 114 Herbert Chitepo Street, in Bulawayo.
In 2015, due to the continued growth of the work, both numerically and financially, the three conferences were realigned into six conferences as follows:
East Zimbabwe Conference became North Zimbabwe Conference and East Zimbabwe Conference,
Central Zimbabwe Conference became North-West Zimbabwe Conference and Central Zimbabwe Conference,
West Zimbabwe Conference became South Zimbabwe Conference and West Zimbabwe Conference.14
It is important to note that the white population declined significantly in the whole country after Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980, a fact reflected both in white church membership and the mixed-race communities. The church in Zimbabwe stepped forward to remedy this by setting up a multi-cultural department to look into the interests of the minority ethnic groups.
The growth of the Adventist church work in Zimbabwe is also clearly evident in the area of self-support. A strong stewardship program manifested itself through tithes and offerings given in cash and in kind. The church has grown financially in spite of the harsh economic decline that has prevailed during the past few years.
Zimbabwe West Union Conference
By 2017, the church membership of the Zimbabwe Union Conference had reached 863,932 in 2,144 churches15. The Zimbabwe Union Conference and division leadership started looking into the possibility of again realigning the union conference territory. Administration believed that smaller union conferences manage the churches and their members more effectively. Thus, leadership conducted studies to determine the feasibility of restructuring the union conference territory into more than one unit. That raised several questions:
Would it involve two or three union conferences?
Would any new union conferences have enough finances to support the work and operate at that level?
What about the central region which was agriculturally-based?
Would it not be better to have the central region divided between the potential eastern and western units?
If there were three union conferences, would it not be better to add parts of the eastern territory to the central region to give it financial strength?
What about the wage-factor?
Would the three unions pay different salaries to their workers?
Would a small country such as Zimbabwe really need more than one union?
The General Conference Annual Council of Seventh-day Adventists raised all of the above questions. But the realignment proposal was finally voted in 2017 to create three union Conferences in Zimbabwe.16 By then, the Republic of Zimbabwe had a population of about 15 million inhabitants and the church membership had reached close to a million. What it simply meant was that the ratio of membership to population stood at about 1 to 15. The studies conducted had convincingly showed that the creation of three union conferences was a viable option. Proposed budgets were balancing, and it was agreed that the church would maintain a unified wage-factor across the three union conferences. Each one would start with two local conferences and create more as needed.
By this time, Zambia, a country to the north of Zimbabwe, had two union conferences and several local conferences, demonstrating that further realignments of existing conferences were achievable. The Zimbabwe West Union Conference began operations on January 1, 2018, with its headquarters at 41 Lawley Road, Suburbs, Bulawayo. The other two entities created were the Zimbabwe East Union Conference with headquarters in Harare, and the Zimbabwe Central Union Conference with offices in Kwekwe.
The Zimbabwe West Union Conference is strategically positioned for further growth and development. It is the country’s gateway by road and railway to South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, and Angola. Steps have begun to start preparing a realignment of its two local conferences into four. The administration has organized branches and companies of new congregations into formal churches, while large churches are being subdivided. Districts are being split into workable territorial sizes. Once such local church restructuring activities conclude, the local conferences will be ready for adjustment.
In Zimbabwe West Union Conference, plans have also reached an advanced stage to set up a medical hospital, following the example of such institutions as Maluti Adventist Hospital in Lesotho, Mwami Adventist Hospital in Zambia, Kanye Adventist Hospital in Botswana, and Malamulo Adventist Hospital in Malawi.
List of Administrators
Zambesi Union Mission Administrators
Presidents: W. E. Straw (1919-1920), E. M. Howard (1921-1924), E. Straw (1925-1926), E. C. Boger (1927-1937), I. R. Campbell (1938-1940), G. R. Nash (1941-1946), W. R. Vali (1947-1952), S. G. Maxwell (1953-1955), F. G. Reid (1956-1965) F. G. Thomas (1966-1970), H. C Curie (1971-1985), R R Ndhlovu (1986-1995), P. R. Machamire (1996-997).
Secretaries: W. B. Cummin (1921), H. M. Sparrow (1922), L. E. Biggs (1923-1925), C. W. Bozarth (1926-1928), D. A. Webster (1929-1936), I. H. (1937-1941), P. W. Willmore (1942-1950), E. J. Gregg (1952-1958), J. M. Baker (1959-1963), C. T. Bannister (1964-1967), M. B. Musgrave (1968-1972), D. E. (1973-1978), R. G. Pearson (1979-1981), C. S. J. Chinyowa (1982-1991), P. R. Machamire (1992-1995), S. Maphosa (1996-1997).
Treasurers: W. B. Cummin (1921), J. E. Symons (1922), L. E. Biggs (1923-1925), C. W. Bozarth (1926-1928), D. A. Webster (1929-1936), I. H. (1937-1941), P. W. Willmore (1942-1950), E. J. Gregg (1952-1958), J. M. Baker (1959-1963), C. T. Bannister (1964-1967), M. B. Musgrave (1968-1972), D. E. (1973-1978), R. G. Pearson (1979-1985), V. Erntson (1986-1990), K. J. Seligmann (1991-1994), A. D. Lopes (1995-1997).
Zimbabwe Union Conference Administrators
Presidents: P. R. Machamire (1997-2000), S. Maphosa (2001-2005), E. Muvuti (2006-2012), M. Choga (2013-2017).
Secretaries: S. Maphosa (1997-2000), E. Muvuti (2001-2005), R. Sithole (2006-2012), E. Chifamba 2013-2017).
Treasurers: A. D. Lopes (1998-1999), B. M. Sibanda 2000-2011) M. Moyo (2012-2016), N. Masuku (2016-2017).
Zimbabwe West Union Conference Administrators
President: M. Choga (2018- )
Secretary: N. M. Msimanga (2018- )
Treasurer: N. Masuku (2018- )
Boger, E. C. “Report of the Zambesi Union Mission.” African Division Outlook, July 1, 193.
General Conference of Seventh-day Adventist, Silver Spring, Maryland, U.S.A. Minutes of the Executive Committee Meetings held April 11-12, 2017.
Ingle, A. “Zambesi Union Mission: Work in Salisbury is Growing.” African Division Outlook, June 16, 1930.
Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook. https://www.adventistyearbook.org/.
Swanepoel, L. Francois. “The Origin and Early History of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in South Africa, 1886-1920.” M.A. Thesis, University of South Africa, 1972.
Zambesi Union Mission of Seventh-day Adventists (Bulawayo, Zimbabwe). Minutes of the Executive Committee Meeting of May 13, 1992.
Zimbabwe Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists (Bulawayo, Zimbabwe), Minutes of the Executive Committee Meetings of November 20 -22, 2014.
Zimbabwe West Union Conference Session Minutes, November 19, 2018.
Its territory consists of the Matabeleland South, Bulawayo, the major portion of Matabeleland North, and parts of the Midlands and Masvingo provinces. It is demarcated as follows: West of the railway line from Chikwarakwara to Bannockburn; From Bannockburn through Adams Farm to the source of the Shangani River; South of the Shangani River up to Dakamela; From Dakamela straight to Lusulu up to Binga Office (Zimbabwe West Union Conference Constitution and By-Laws).↩
“Zimbabwe West Union Conference,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (2022), https://www.adventistyearbook.org/entity?EntityID=54225.↩
Swanepoel, L. Francois, “The Origin and Early History of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in South Africa, 1886-1920.” MA thesis, University of South Africa, 1972.↩
“Malawi,” Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, second rev. ed. (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1996), 16.↩
“Zambesi Conference,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1997).↩
E. C. Boger, “Report of the Zambesi Union Mission,” African Division Outlook, July 1, 1931, 16-18.↩
“Zambesi Union,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook, (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1971), 269- 272↩
“Zambezi Union,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1977), 301-304.↩
“Zambezi Union,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1965), “248-267.↩
“Zambesi Union,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1982), 324, 325.↩
“Zambesi Union Mission,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C. Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1965), 71, 72.↩
Zambesi Union Mission Executive Committee Meeting, May 13, 1992, 120, 121.↩
“Zambezi Union,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1986), 70.↩
Zimbabwe Union Conference Executive Committee Meeting, November 20 -22, 2014, 19.↩
“Zimbabwe Union Conference,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 2017), 387.↩
General Conference Executive Committee Meeting, April 11-12, 2017 (17-051 Zimbabwe Union Conference realignment voted to record the decision by the General Conference Executive Committee to realign Zimbabwe Union Conference into three union conferences).↩