President Robert Mugabe has come out in support of his embattled prime minister, Movement for Democratic Change founder Morgan Tsvangirai, urging the Zimbabwean media to pull back from its intense coverage of Mr. Tsvangirai's marital woes.
In an apparent reference to the prime minister’s alleged marriage to Locadia Karimatsenga Tembo, the president noted in remarks on Wednesday that Zimbabwean law allows men to have as many wives as they wish, urging the press to give Mr. Tsvangirai some space so he can disentangle his personal life.
Mr. Tsvangirai issued a statement on Wednesday in a bid to end speculation about his marital status. He said he had wanted to rebuild his family after the death of his first wife Susan in a highway crash in 2009, but was ending his relationship with Tembo due to what he said was meddling by the media and state security agents.
But women's rights activists said Mr. Mugabe's comments endorsing multiple marriage partners were irresponsible especially in a country battling the scourge of AIDS.
Noted activist Betty Makoni: “Ironically it’s said [by the president] on World AIDS Day today [amid] scientific proof that HIV/AIDS spreads faster via multiple partners.”
She said Mr. Tsvangirai’s statement undermined the integrity of women and marriage.
Mr. Tsvangirai said he had become "a spectator in this relationship," charging that press coverage and machinations by state security agents had made it intolerable.
"This relationship has been irretrievably damaged to a point where marriage is now inconceivable," Mr. Tsvangirai declared, though he said he remained "unfazed."
He apologized to Zimbabweans for the confusion surrounding his personal life. "When the time comes, and when the right person fit to be a reliable partner and mother of my children is found, I will advise the nation accordingly."
Makoni said there was no widespread outcry from the women’s movement in Zimbabwe because “our women’s movement is compromised by being partisan.”
But Yvonne Mahlunge Gwashawanhu, a feminist and co-founder of the MDC, said she supported the prime minister. She said the women’s movement was not put forward to help wealthy women like Tembo whose relationships have ended poorly.
"There are so many other worthy causes for feminists like myself to be championing than to be fighting the corner of a 39 year old businesswoman who has resources available to her to do whatever it is that she wishes to do," Gwashawanhu said.
Commenting on Mr. Mugabe’s remarks, Gwashawanhu said the "sting operation" against Mr. Tsvangirai was well orchestrated by state agents and it was now convenient for Mr. Mugabe to claim to support his prime minister now that the damage was done.
Elsewhere in politics, former St Mary’s member of Parliament Job Sikhala, head of a splinter faction of the MDC called MDC-99, on Thursday urged mass action to remove President Mugabe from office without proceeding with elections next year.