Zimbabwe's Registrar General Tobaiwa Mudede has banned mass weddings and is threatening to annul unions that were solemnized by at least 716 marriage officers.
Mudede told a news conference Monday that since the introduction of the new marriage regulations in March to flush out bogus officers, a total of 1,253 marriages have been licensed.
But, he said, his office previously had 1,966 officers on their marriage register before the reforms. Mudede said he could only infer that those who did not come back were bogus.
New certificates, which are computerized and harder to counterfeit, were introduced his year as part of measures to curb marriages of convenience, multiple marriages and fraud by foreigners.
Under the new regulations, foreigners are expected to provide documentary proof from their countries proving they are not married and are law-abiding citizens.
“The figures speak for themselves. It means the difference might have been pseudo marriage officers,” said Mudede.
“We still challenge them to come forward if they are pure officers to be free from this blemish. As for now, no one has come out in the open and the marriages they solemnized in the past will be canceled.”
Legal expert Alex Magaisa said marriage is often used as a loophole by those trying to evade immigration rules, raising the need for tighter controls.
But, Magaisa said, Mudede's statement shows his office has failed to control the country's laws on marriage.
“If the Registrar General’s Office is failing to manage a simple register of marriage officers, which is not more than 2,000 people, how can it be trusted to manage the voters’ roll which constitutes millions of people?" asked Magaisa.
“I think it’s a sheer demonstration of incompetence and is an admission of failure on the part of the Registrar General’s Office which bears credence to all those accusations that have been made in the past that the office is not fit for its purpose and raises the issue of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission being capacitated to take over this role.”
Harare Residents Trust director Precious Shumba said the threat may greatly inconvenience hundreds of unsuspecting couples.
“The people are not to blame. They have no time to ask if their priest or pastor has a marriage certificate,” said Shumba. He adds Mudede's officer should publish the full list of registered marriage officers in the country to avoid unnecessary pain.
Meanwhile, the parliamentary committee on justice and legal affairs has unanimously recommended Mudede's removal from any business that has to do with the country’s future elections.
The committee is concerned that the responsibility for the voters roll continues to be shared between the Zimbabwe Election Commission and the Registrar General’s Office.
The committee wants the ZEC to be given "sole and exclusive responsibility for registration of voters and the maintenance of the voters roll.”
Justice committee chairman Douglas Mwonzora said the recommendation is informed by the views of ordinary Zimbabweans.
Election Resource Center Zimbabwe director Tawanda Chimhini applauded the parliamentary committee for coming up with the recommendation.