Zimbabweans, weary of mounting economic troubles, are lapping up the latest instalment in the private life of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.
Tsvangirai's alleged affairs with at least five different women have damaged his image.
Tsvangirai agreed at the weekend to make a rumoured $300 000 payment to his former lover, Locardia Karimatsenga, in a last-ditch effort to wrap up the messy relationship, which he claimed was "hijacked" by his political rivals from Zanu-PF.
The payment is meant to meet the demands of Karimatsenga, who has lodged a court case against the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) president demanding $15 000 in monthly maintenance fees. The breakdown of the monthly maintenance fee includes $3 000 for rent, $4 000 for groceries, $1700 for beauty expenses, $1 500 for clothing, $1 200 for telephone bills and $1 000 for a motor vehicle and fuel, among other expenses.
Karimatsenga justified her high maintenance bill by saying that her relationship with Tsvangirai had made her accustomed to an expensive lifestyle. MDC spokesperson Douglas Mwonzora refused to comment, saying the issue was a private affair. A Harare magistrate in September ruled that despite the fallout between the two they were still married under customary law, which is recognised in Zimbabwe.
Karimatsenga's lawyer, Jonathan Samkange, on Wednesday indicated that the six-figure payment did not mean that their union had ended. "My client is still married to Tsvangirai. We have only agreed to maintenance issues. We got a good figure that we are not at liberty to disclose. Tsvangirai has not paid gupuro [a traditional fine to end a marriage] and the marriage was never terminated, so as we speak Karimatsenga is still Tsvangirai's wife," said Samkange.
MDC sources said Tsvangirai had hoped to close the "dark episode" by agreeing to the large payment, because it had fanned questions about his suitability as a presidential candidate in next year's election, which will square him up against President Robert Mugabe for the third consecutive time. Instead, the payment has sparked fresh controversy and speculation over the source of the funds.
Tsvangirai earns a monthly salary of $2 000 as prime minister and is not known to be involved in or own any business. In July, in an effort to provide transparency and staunch claims of corruption in the MDC's ranks, the party's top brass took the bold step of declaring their assets to parliamentary speaker Lovemore Moyo. He confirmed that the party's executive had declared assets that included houses, cars, furniture and livestock and that no "eye-raising" declarations had been made. Zanu-PF's top brass has resisted proposals from the MDC to follow suit.
Margaret Dongo, a former opposition leader, is at the forefront of questions about the source of the $300 000, implying that the money may have been siphoned from donor funds paid to the MDC.
"If the money is coming from donors then it is a pity. Unfortunately for Africa and for Zimbabwe, the international community takes the view that as long as one is fighting Mugabe, they deserve to be supported even if they are corrupt. That is unfair. As a concerned citizen, I am calling upon the unity government to investigate where Tsvangirai is getting the money he is using to pay lobola and damages to his women," said Dongo.
Political observers pointed out that, with elections approaching, Zanu-PF could gain mileage from the controversial payment by using it to cast the MDC leader as a big-spending leader.
Tsvangirai was unavailable for comment. He is on honeymoon in the United Kingdom with his new wife, Elizabeth Macheka.