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Zimbabwe view: Marriages of convenience

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe (left) and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai

In a new series of weekly viewpoints from African journalists, reporter Farai Sevenzo considers Zimbabwe's power-sharing government, as it approaches 100 days in office.

I've been thinking about marriages of convenience, of how they can inconvenience your life by virtue of their very uncertainty.

For nothing is certain: plans cannot be made; your wife is not really your wife; your husband has married you to make a point, but he could dump you at any time.

And the time you spend together is for appearance's sake, so that the neighbours can say that the new couple next door seemed hopelessly ill-suited at first - he was old and thin and she was fat and ordinary - and they both seemed too poor to make a go of it.

No love lost

But there they are, holding hands for the cameras, attending each other's relatives' funerals and planning for their family's future by raising money together.

You just never know. It could work.

A groom dances as brides walk down the aisle at a mass wedding in South Africa
Political unions, like real marriages, can have their highs and lows

And when such marriages happen the relatives must be told: "Yes, I'm marrying him, but if I don't, I won't get my papers."

"I have to marry her or we will starve as a clan. She has rich relatives in the diaspora and they can send us money."

The reasons will come thick and thin, but none of them will mention love; for love will have nothing to do with such a marriage.

It is, of course, essentially a union of convenience.

Now those relatives will slowly begin to whisper on both sides of the inconvenient alliance: "What a husband! He is mean and does not provide; he favours his own relatives; we are being used by him."

"What a wife! She seems too stubborn to obey. She is always complaining."

At every turn, the couple that so dominated the news agenda last year seem to have been playing see-saw with the Zimbabwean nation's destiny

And on and on it goes until the family leave them to it and depart one by one, some crossing crocodile-infested waters, so they can escape this suffocating feeling of uncertainty.

This week Zimbabwe's union of Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai will have reached the magical milestone of 100 days.

It is a century of days that has been fraught with mistrust and there has been nothing much convenient about it.

At every turn, the couple that so dominated the news agenda this time last year seem to have been playing see-saw with the Zimbabwean nation's destiny and waiting for their neighbours to say: "Yes, this union seems to be working so let's deliver the wedding gifts."

A Zimbabwean government daily newspaper unveils the new hundred trillion dollar note on 16 January 2009
Zimbabwe's currency has gone on an extended holiday

Chief amongst expectations is a $5bn (£3.2bn) aid package meant to rescue the nation's economy from the moribund depths in which it languishes.

The shops are once again full of goods, it would seem.

Teachers and civil servants are being paid and the Zimbabwean dollar, once so maligned for its billion and trillion dollar bank notes, has taken a year's vacation in favour of the American dollar.

So what's the problem?

The world and his wife are too busy to care at the moment, it would seem, about what happens to the Zimbabwean marriage.

For as usual, there are problem spots all over the globe which render this protracted crisis a little less important.

Here's the long and short of it: The wife has been trying to get her rich friends and relatives to put money into the marriage.

But they say they cannot trust such a husband with their cash.

An unidentified man is removed from the stadium by the police for misbehaviour during independence celebrations in Harare, Zimbabwe, on 18 April 2009
The jury still seems to be out on whether power-sharing will work

The new finance minister, allied as he is to the new prime minister, reckons he can deliver the funds needed to jump-start the nation's economy, but not with the same old faces being in charge of the money.

The president won't have it any other way.

In the meantime, the praise-singers, poets and orators of this grand union (we shall call them journalists for the sake of clarity) find themselves thrown into prison for publishing the names of abductors and state agents and trying to chart the ups and downs of these times.

Several other people too continue to yo-yo in and out of court and jail.

And there is a growing feeling that even in marriages of convenience, there are those powerful bridegrooms who never let you forget where the real power lies.

Let's see what happens in the next 100 days.




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