Zimbabwe's new marriage regulations, unveiled by Registrar-General Tobaiwa Mudede this week to curb sham marriages, have been hailed by some gender activists but concerns have been raised they could create unnecessary bureaucracy that may restrict women’s rights to chose partners.
Lawmaker Evelyn Masaiti with the MDC formation of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai is one of the first victims of the new regulations. She recently received widespread coverage when a provincial magistrate barred her from marrying her Cameroonian partner, Pentecote Ayina, early this month.
Presiding magistrate Jabulani Mzinyathi said Ayina failed to meet the minimum requirements under the new measures.
The two, however, managed to exchange vows in the same court last week after Ayina provided original documents from his home country.
Under the new marriage regulations aimed at blocking multiple unions, fraud by foreigners and marriages of convenience, immigrants are expected to provide documentary proof from their home countries proving they are not married and are law-abiding citizens.
Some marriage officers have welcomed the move although but others say the process will now be cumbersome. Finger prints, photos of the couple and full witness details are some of the features on the new highly-securitized marriage certificate unveiled by Mudede this week.
Masaiti told the VOA’s Violet Gonda: “I don’t think ours was a marriage of convenience, but the regulation is okay because it protects women and it also will not be fair if someone who is married somewhere else to come and marry again in another country.”
But she said more information needs to be availed to show the country truly has a problem with sham marriages. She adds currently it seems the new regulations are targeting women more, ignoring male Zimbabweans, including ministers and other lawmakers, who have foreign spouses and partners.
Jonah Gokova, chairman of the Padare/Enkundleni men's forum on gender said it is unfortunate that women are generally treated with suspicion when it comes to marriage. He adds those in leadership and society at large generally assume women cannot make their own decisions about who they want to marry.
“I hope this new certificate is not coming into being with that kind of mentality where they are saying women in Zimbabwe are suspect,” said Gokova. “But if it is about protecting the rights of Zimbabwean women then I think it’s a welcome development.”
Masaiti, who's marrying for the fourth time, accused the media of treating her with suspicion. She said people were quick to judge her.
“They should have asked me what my spouse is doing in life not to think that he is coming here because he would want to have a marriage of convenience,” said Masaiti.
“I am now officially married, it was my choice, it was my spouse’s choice and it was out of love.”
Her new Cameroonian husband said he was shocked by the lack of proper information on the new marriage regulations, adding he found himself thrust into an awkward situation.
Pentecote Ayina, who says he's a United Nations humanitarian worker, said he's contemplating taking measures against the Masvingo magistrate whom he accuses of leaking his information to the media.
“Once we left the court house, he (magistrate) called the press and gave them all our private details. That is what is unbearable for me. He deserves sanctions. He needs to be punished by his hierarchy.”
“I am going to complain as an international humanitarian worker, working especially for a big organization like the UN. It is an offense against my privacy.”
Ayina said there is a general tendency that when people see a foreigner they think they want to settle in Zimbabwe, adding he's different.
“It is out of love, and when I even compare my country with Zimbabwe, really my country is a very rich country compared to Zimbabwe so I don’t even know what type of business I can even do here.”
“Now that I have a Zimbabwean wife I must make sure that everything that Zimbabwe does not have I have to bring it here for my wife to be happy and comfortable,” added Ayina. “Here in Zimbabwe you don’t have plantains, you don’t have cocoa, and yams. Even the cooking style is very poor and different.”
Masaiti’s husband said it is wrong to discriminate against other people merely because they are coming from a different background.