The Inter-Regional Meeting of the Bishops of Southern Africa, known as IMBISA is an organ of Liaison and Pastoral Cooperation between Episcopal Conferences of Angola and São Tome & Principe (CEAST), Lesotho Catholic Bishops’ Conference (LCBC), Mozambique Catholic bishops’ Conference (CEM), Namibia Catholic Bishops Conference (NCBC), Southern Africa Catholic Bishops which is made up of Botswana, South Africa and Swaziland (SACBC) and Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference (ZCBC). The Region has 78 ecclesiastical territories (Archdioceses and Dioceses) and 101 Bishops. At the moment IMBISA is the only Regional Conference that is made up of two language groups, that is English and Portuguese.
IMBISA grew out of the desire of the Bishops to discuss matters of common concern and to update each other with regards to developments in each other’s country. After meeting informally during the Universal Bishops’ Synod in Rome in 1974, a meeting of Bishops’ delegates of Southern African countries was held in Pretoria in April 1975. This was the beginning of the process of the birth of IMBISA. Initially IMBISA was known as The Inter-Territorial Meeting of the Bishops of Southern Africa. The name was changed to Inter-regional Meeting of the Bishops of Southern Africa (IMBISA) when the application of the approval of the Constitution was made. This was done to distinguish IMBISA from the National Episcopal Conferences and their equivalents which were spoken of using the term ‘territorial’. The IMBISA Constitution was approved at an assembly that was held in Lesotho in 1978 and in 1980 the IMBISA Secretariat was established in Manzini, Swaziland. The existence of IMBISA was a result of the new needs of the Church in the Region and the prophetic vision of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). The Council brought in a new era of collegial ministry in the Catholic Church. This was an appreciation of the changing circumstances, which the Church now found herself. The circular institutions and organisations had already proved the effectiveness of corporate action. The Second Vatican Council Decree on Pastoral Office of Bishops in the Church, Christus Dominus, Chapter 3 page 37 states that; it is often impossible nowadays especially, for Bishops to exercise their Office suitably and fruitfully unless they establish closer understanding and cooperation with other Bishops…”this sacred synod judges that it would be greatly helpful if in all parts of the world the Bishops of each country or region would meet regularly, so that by sharing their wisdom and experience and exchanging views they may jointly formulate a program for the common good of the Church.
The IMBISA Members are all those Southern African Episcopal Conferences which have applied for membership and have been accepted.30 In the minutes of the first meeting of IMBISA we read: “The chairman – Convenor explained that not Conferences but countries had been invited in order to obtain as much information as possible and to collect a wide spectrum of opinion”. 31 Such being the case, the continuation Committee decided in December 1976 that the Second General Assembly should be made up of Bishops or their duly delegated representatives chosen by each member country. In subsequent meetings, the emphasis has been on member countries more than on member Episcopal conferences. The members of IMBISA first met in general assemblies until 1984 when the plenary assemblies were introduced. Since then the plenary assembly has become established as the major platform for policy making.