Johannesburg — Covering politics can sometimes be a dry, dull business. Not in Zimbabwe. SIMON ALLISON takes great delight in reporting three bizarre stories that made that an appearance on our northern neighbours' front pages this week.
Zimbabwe often throws up bizarre news, but even by its unusual standard this has been a week of particularly strange stories.
First, there was the announcement that the government had finally filled a position which had remained vacant for seven years: state hangman. The new executioner is reportedly a Malawian national, ominously described by Permanent Secretary for Justice David Mangota as "raring to go".
Without an official executioner, no death sentences have been carried out. "We're tired of hanging around," prisoners on death row - one of whom has been waiting for 13 years - may or may not have said. Zimbabwe has been searching unsuccessfully for a hangman for years. Despite plenty of applicants, none were deemed suitable, although it is unclear on what criteria they were judged.
The new man in the job, who will receive a "substantial" salary, won't be able to get to work just yet. Zimbabwe's proposed new constitution scraps the death penalty completely, and Mangota explained that until there is more clarification on this there was a moratorium on implementing it.
Next, it was Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's turn to occupy the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Poor Morgan. Ever since the tragic death of his wife in a car crash in 2009, his love life has lurched from one public humiliation to another. Last year, he was supposed to get married and had even exchanged lobola with the family of his bride-to-be, Locadia Tembo, before calling the whole thing off, alleging that suspicious forces were intent on derailing his union. "I have become a spectator in this relationship and things are happening too fast, on camera and without my knowledge. This has led me to conclude that there is a greater and thicker plot around this issue which has undermined my confidence in this relationship."
This was followed in June this year by an admission, after much speculation, that he was indeed the father of a 19-month-old love child.
The politician, aged 60, also confirmed that he was paying $1,400 a month to the mother, aged just 24.
All this wasn't enough to deter him from attempting a second marriage for a second time. His wedding is scheduled for this Saturday. His bride, Elizabeth Macheka, is the daughter of a Zanu-PF politician but maintains that she holds different political views. Nonetheless, this choice has attracted plenty of criticism, and the ire of his former fiancé. Tembo took Tsvangirai to court alleging that the two of them were already married under customary law, and demanded $15,000 a month for maintenance, including $1,700 for "hair and beauty therapy". To put this in context, the average per capita GDP in Zimbabwe is $800.
Fortunately for Tsvangirai, the suit was thrown out of court by a sympathetic judge this week, although Tembo is planning on appealing.
The wedding should go ahead on Saturday, hopefully allowing Tsvangirai to spend less time worrying about his messy personal life and more time figuring out Zimbabwe's even messier political transition, which is at a crucial phase. A recent survey showed Tsvangirai and his party's popularity at an all-time low ahead of expected elections next year, and a deal is yet to be reached on the proposed new constitution.
Not that his main political opponent, President Robert Mugabe, is all that worried about the new constitution. No, what's really concerning Comrade Bob is Jamaica - and how Zimbabwe should not follow in that country's footsteps. Comments he made last week have attracted a firestorm of criticism, with Jamaicans outraged at his derogatory and stereotypical views. "In Jamaica, they have freedom to smoke marijuana.
Men are always sloshed and universities are full of women. The men want to sing and do not go to colleges. Some are dreadlocked. Let us not go there," said the president, a consummate diplomat as always.
Making this all the more ironic is that Mugabe himself was once awarded the prestigious Order of Jamaica by the government, a commendation that country is now regretting. "We need not remind that Jamaicans such as Marcus Garvey, Michael Manley, Bob Marley and Dudley Thompson have advocated for and inspired generations of our brothers and sisters both in Africa and in the African diaspora," said the Jamaica's mercifully dreadlock-free Foreign Minister AJ Nicholson in response to Mugabe's attack. "We believe that our contribution to the promotion of peace and social justice is recognised and appreciated by all well-thinking people across the globe."
A new hangman, a jealous lover and a diplomatic spat with Jamaica: it's been a particularly fascinating week in a country that is many things, but never boring.