/ 21 September 2012

Zim abuzz with sex and scandal

Zimbabwean Prime Minster Morgan Tsvangirai is tying the knot again despite a court case trying to prevent it.
Zimbabwean Prime Minster Morgan Tsvangirai is tying the knot again despite a court case trying to prevent it.

Big questions hang over Zimbabwe's stuttering constitutional reform and there are growing questions over the economy as the finance minister took the begging bowl to neighbours to plug a hole in the budget.

And yet the biggest question this week in Zimbabwe – on the streets and across the front pages of the newspapers – was whether or not a wedding would go ahead this weekend.

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai is to marry his fiancée, Elizabeth Macheka, this weekend, in a glamourous wedding to which at least three African heads of state have been invited.

On Wednesday, a judge dismissed an application by a former lover of Tsvangirai, Locadia Karimatsenga (39), to have the wedding cancelled. She claimed she had married Tsvangirai last year in a customary ceremony.

Despite the ruling in Tsvangirai's favour, a small threat remained – the judge told Karimatsenga to appeal to the marriage officer who had authorised Tsvangirai's marriage to Macheka.

As the nation lapped up the scandal and speculated about the wedding, everything else took a back seat.

Tsvangirai's party, the Movement for Democratic Change, has been working on an economic plan to fob off criticism that it lacks any real policy beyond opposition to Mugabe.

The launch of the plan had been scheduled for this week, but the MDC announced it had postponed it.

"We postponed the event because we realised that we had just had another high-profile event over the weekend, so we decided to have it at a later date – probably in the next two weeks," said Nelson Chamisa, MDC organising secretary. "We are busy preparing for the wedding."

On Wednesday, hours before the judge was due to rule on the wedding, another case was being heard in the same court. A judge was to rule on bail for 29 MDC activists, who have been in jail for more than a year without trial. They are accused of killing a policeman, a charge they deny.

Few journalists took notice, waiting instead for Judge Antonia Guvava's ruling on the wedding.

Tsvangirai's lawyer, Innocent Chagonda, said the Wednesday ruling freed the prime minister to prepare for his wedding and  concentrate on "the business of government".

But the affair has further tainted Tsvangirai's image at a time when he has been shown in two recent surveys to trail Mugabe in terms of support.

Tsvangirai told the Voice of America that he should not be judged by his personal life.

"All I know is that I've met a woman, I love her and I'm moving forward. If people want to make a judgment of my leadership on that basis, we certainly cannot have that as a yardstick for measuring my leadership," he said.

Ballot beckoning
The prime minister's opponents are enjoying the distraction.

The Herald columnist Nathaniel Manheru, who is widely believed to be President Robert Mugabe's spokesperson, George Charamba, mocked Tsvangirai.

"But one thing is very clear: the prime minister's bedroom won't go away. Does it not hear the ballot beckoning?" Manheru wrote, suggesting Tsvangirai would not be adequately prepared if Mugabe were to call a snap election.

Tsvangirai's private life has provided fodder for his opponents. Zanu-PF's attack dog, Jonathan Moyo, has previously derided the prime minister for his "open zip and shut mind policy".

Tsvangirai's backers have failed to steer debate away from the sleaze, only adding their own. A pro-MDC news website ran a series of articles on sex scandals involving Zanu-PF officials, saying its coverage was "fair game".

Adding fuel to the fire, Tsvangirai's spokesperson drew derision when he claimed an elaborate operation by Mugabe's secret police to use Karimatsenga to bring down Tsvangirai. The operation, he said, was code-named Operation Blackhawk or Spiderweb, and was "funded to the tune of $100-million".

The media has feasted on the case. Karimatsenga's affidavit to the courts has been widely circulated, providing a window into the prime minister's personal life.

Tsvangirai had blamed her for a miscarriage, she claimed, and she now needed "psychological treatment" for the trauma.

"I must point out that my husband has never said to my face that he no longer loves me," she said. "I must also point out that I will not give up my right to be my husband's first wife."

In his court papers, Tsvangirai said he shuddered to think what would have become of him if he had married Karimatsenga. "Only God knows what life I would have lived with the applicant," he said.




Divorces reveal elite's distress – and wealth


Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai is not the only one who has had his private life splashed across the newspapers. A number of other politicians are also giving Zimbabweans some relief from the usual coverage of political issues.

Simon Khaya Moyo, Zanu-PF national chairperson and former ambassador to South Africa, has filed for divorce from his wife of 32 years, Sibonokuhle Getrude Moyo. He has become the latest top ­official from the party who seeks to end his marriage.

Moyo declared that their ­marriage had irretrievably broken down.

"There is no more love and affection between the parties. There are no conjugal rights enjoyed between the parties. The marriage has failed to live up to a relationship that is a normal one and what is expected from marriage relationships," said Moyo through his lawyers.

Moyo joins the growing list of Zanu-PF politicians who, despite their toughness on the political stage, seem unable to get a grip on their marriages.

Wealth of Zanu-PF elite

Ignatius Chombo, minister of urban, rural and local government, made headlines in 2010 with his divorce from his wife of 26 years, Marian Chombo. In the absence of any laws in Zimbabwe that force politicians to declare their wealth, Chombo's divorce case exposed his vast wealth – which included luxury vehicles, numerous prime properties in and around Harare and several commercial farms – as his former wife sought to get a share of his empire.

For many ordinary Zimbabweans, Chombo's divorce offered a glimpse into the wealth of the Zanu-PF elite that otherwise would have remained a closely guarded secret. Not only did Chombo's divorce expose his massive property portfolio, it also brought to the fore an affair he had with former Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation news anchor Nanette Silukhuni.

As news broke this week of Moyo's divorce, the eyes of curious readers roved over the newspaper details of the property the pair had acquired during their three-decade-long union. The Moyos own a farm, 150 head of cattle, various farm implements, two houses, household furniture and a Toyota Hilux – a modest declaration of assets in contrast to Chombo's list, which was read out during his divorce proceedings.

Moyo only wants to keep the house in Harare and is prepared to give away everything else.

Last year, army commander Constantine Chiwenga divorced his wife Jocelyn Chiwenga to marry  former model Mary Mubaiwa, for whom he allegedly paid a bride price of $45 000.

President Robert Mugabe has appealed to members of his Zanu-PF party to act responsibly and remain faithful to their partners. – Ray Ndlovu