Chofamba Sithole

Innocent Chofamba Sithole is a Zimbabwean journalist living in England. He has worked for the Financial Gazette, Zimbabwe's oldest business independent weekly. He was editor of the Sunday Mirror between November 2003 and September 2004. He has written articles for several UK and South African periodicals and is a keen supporter of the online Zimbabwean media

Tsvangirai has lost his moral compass

Sex mad ... Tsvangirai, his chief of staff Ian Makone and Tembo

THERE is something incongruous about how Zimbabwean journalists are reporting the debacle surrounding Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s marriage-that-allegedly-never-was.

Whilst the state-controlled Herald has, predictably, gleefully reported on the ‘union’ and its attendant soap operatic saga, the independent media has bizarrely preoccupied itself with efforts to ‘uncover’ the ‘truth’ about the origins of claims that Tsvangirai had married his lover, Locadia Tembo, a wealthy businesswoman hailing from a traditionally Zanu PF family and whose sister is an MP in President Mugabe’s party.

New Zimbabwe.com published a story entitled ‘The curious case of Tsvangirai’s marriage’ on Thursday which sought to reconcile the gaps between the Tembo family’s claims of a marriage between their daughter and the Prime Minister on the one hand, and denials of such a union by Tsvangirai’s spokesman Luke Tamborinyoka on the other.

The story quoted journalist and political commentator, Pedzisayi Ruhanya, who suggested that Tamborinyoka’s denials correctly reflected Tsvangirai’s position on the alleged marriage. Further, Ruhanya averred that Tsvangirai could be a victim of factions in his party that are trying to play matchmaker for him in a bid to gain influence and control over him.

SW Radio Africa took it a notch further with a story also published on Thursday alleging an apparent conspiracy to corner Tsvangirai into marriage. The story also quoted Tsvangirai’s aides dismissing the veracity of the marriage claims. Ruhanya also features in this story, and this time he openly fingers Tsvangirai ally and co-Home Affairs Minister Theresa Makone as the troublesome matchmaker whose interference in the Prime Minister’s private life portends ill not only for Tsvangirai himself, but for the MDC-T’s overall mission to deliver democratic change.

It is hard to quarrel with Ruhanya’s perspective on the goings-on within the MDC-T as he is solidly well-informed on the subject.

All this is very well and makes for interesting reading too, what with the sense of political intrigue and sex scandal it throws up all at once. Indeed, the story has provided much comic relief to legislators in Parliament, where the Prime Minister was on Thursday mockingly hailed as a Zanu PF son-in-law by MPs from that party as he arrived for the national budget presentation by Finance Minister Tendai Biti.

However, what I found most disturbing and disheartening about the independent media’s reporting (I’m not addressing the Herald for obvious reasons – they have no pretensions about their partisanship!) on this latest Tsvangirai debacle was their apparent diversion of popular attention from the real controversies of this episode. What’s beyond dispute is that the Prime Minister has made yet another young Zimbabwean woman pregnant, and out of wedlock.

Immediately after official denials from Tsvangirai’s office rolled into newsrooms, alarm bells should have rung long and shrill about the falling moral probity of a national leader, a father figure, a grandfather and, inevitably, a role model for young men across the country.

The confirmation by his office of Tsvangirai having paid “damages” to the Tembo family in acknowledgement of his responsibility for Locadia’s pregnancy – we are told with twins – should have elicited hard questions by the media about the growing notoriety of the Prime Minister’s salacious lifestyle in the wake of his wife Susan’s tragic passing in 2009.

The insistence of the Prime Minister’s office that Tsvangirai had only paid damages and no marriage had taken place seems to put it beyond doubt that Tsvangirai has no intentions to take Locadia as his lawfully wedded wife now or any time in the future. Otherwise, why create all this hullabaloo between two people who have every intention to live together happily ever after?

Journalists are no secret-keepers for the PM and they are doing him no favours by failing to hold up his increasingly embarrassing lifestyle to public scrutiny under the specious excuse that it is his private business. Well, for what it is worth, it ceases to be his private business if young people living in one of the most HIV/Aids-affected societies in Sub-Saharan Africa should find encouragement to eschew condom use because their Prime Minister goes ‘bareback’ and still appears untouched by disease.

You might say that is a presumptuous conclusion, but not so if you factor in poor Loreta Nyathi, the 23-year-old Bulawayo girl whom the Prime Minister allegedly knocked up and left to raise his son on her own.

That brings me to another worrying point – this apparent sowing of wild oats by Tsvangirai. One expects an irresponsible young man who knows no better – nhubu yomunhu – to leave a litany of baby mamas across the country, not the Prime Minister! Anywhere in the civilised world, this unbecoming and morally reprehensible behaviour would have haunted any politician into resignation, but not so in Zimbabwe.

Powerful men have carte blanche to behave outrageously when it comes to sexual affairs, and society tends to acquiesce to this appalling indulgence. Journalists sustain it by nibbling at the periphery of these disquieting moral contradictions, preferring to leave the core of the matter publicly untouched. They do gossip of course, over a beer or two, about all the skirt-chasing and altogether unbecoming behaviour of national leaders which they’re privy to.

Perhaps the new crop of national leaders from the MDC believes that any public scrutiny of their sexual lives is unfair, since many of their Zanu PF colleagues have enjoyed more than 30 years sexual and material profligacy unmolested by hostile press publicity. That is largely true, of course – many Zanu PF politicians have, over the decades, sired multitudes of fatherless children and sunk into putrefying sexual scandals involving “small houses” and even under age girls.

However, these ‘Chinja’ leaders have come into public life at a new historical juncture, and they have found a generation that seeks to escape the scourge of HIV infection and make up for the country’s sad loss of human capital over the last 20 years. Key to that survival is the restoration of its moral fibre, which can only be achieved by this generation taking responsibility for its future. The growing readiness to be tested and to know one’s HIV status means this generation is ready for openness and accountability in moral as in political matters.

This is the generation that Prime Minister Tsvangirai wants to lead as president of the country. He may very well still do so in future, but presently his own personal affairs are an incorrigible mess, hardly the picture of inspiration for aspiring young Zimbabweans.

Firebrand independent politician Margaret Dongo is right to excoriate Tsvangirai for ‘dropping his pants everywhere’ and impregnating women. Pedzisai Ruhanya’s insightful observation that romance could shape Tsvangirai’s destiny appears even more illuminating in light of recent developments.

The Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:9: “However, if they cannot control themselves, they should get married, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” Sound advice; methinks.