The SADC Protocol on Transport, Communications and Meteorology (PTCM), Article 13.13, specified the formation of regional Associations for each transport mode with Southern African Railways Association (SARA) being for the railways. SARA was formed in April 1996 as a 'Non-Profit Organisation' domiciled in Zimbabwe. The mandate of SARA is defined in Article 7 of the PTCM. At its formation, SARA was to originally provide the SADC railways with a strong lobbying Association to pursue advocacy for fair surface transport competition to be achieved through– “levelling of the playing field” between road and rail in terms of policy and regulations. While lobbying has remained one of the major objectives of SARA, the need for performance improvement has taken a central position on the regional agenda. Efficient and cost-effective service delivery will thus assist the railways’ cause through improved policy support and increased market share while benefiting the regional economies.
SARA’s objective is to bring about fair intermodal competition among surface transport modes through lobbying for surface policy shift to promote intermodal equity between road and rail. This provides a means for the railways to improve their efficiency, effectiveness of operations and, sets the course to be followed towards meeting its objectives in pursuit of its mandate.
SARA has repositioned itself to effectively collaborate with its stakeholders, regional economic communities and the international development partners for enhancement of railway transport services at regional, continental and global levels. Hence the need of commitment from all its members, SADC, continuous research and development, resource mobilisation and the prudent use and maintenance of all available resources.
There are three categories of members of the Association. The categories are full members who are railways in SADC, the associate members who are allied to railway industry and special members who are organisations or groups with vested interest in the railway industry. The rights and obligations of membership is set out in the SARA Constitution and or as determined by the SARA Board.
The current barrier in such a regional grouping is national statutory laws and regulations, bilateral agreements. Leadership of SARA is based on rotational selection of SARA President and Vice President on yearly basis based on criteria set in the SARA Constitution. The SARA members pay an annual subscription fee based on a formula with subscription fee ranging from USD24 436 to USD51 567. The Associate members pay a fixed membership fee per annum.