HARARE, Zimbabwe – Zimbabwe's prime minister said at his marriage ceremony Saturday that he had to date several women to find the one he truly loves.
Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai dismissed as propaganda the reports by the state media that say his private life is irresponsible and makes him unfit to lead the country.
A Zimbabwe magistrate ruled on Friday that Tsvangirai could not to go ahead with a formal wedding after a jilted ex-lover filed a suit against him claiming the two were still married under Zimbabwe's tribal laws. The court upheld that Tsvangirai paid a traditional bride price for the woman last year and therefore was married to her.
The magistrate cautioned Tsvangirai that if he signed a legal marriage register with his new wife he could be prosecuted for bigamy.
Tsvangirai, 60 and Elizabeth Macheka, 35, exchanged vows Saturday but did not sign the legal marriage register.
Speaking in the local Shona language at the lavish event that continued until the early hours of Sunday, Tsvangirai reassured his supporters and Zimbabweans in general that he had not made errors of judgment in seeing other women since his wife of 31 years, Susan, 50, died in a car accident in 2009. Tsvangirai said he has finally found the right partner.
Several top regional leaders had been invited to the wedding but did not show up, presumably because of the court order that the wedding should not go ahead.
Polygamy is recognized under Zimbabwe's traditional customary law but not in its formal legal system.
Zimbabwe's state media loyal to President Robert Mugabe who is in a shaky, three-year coalition with Tsvangirai on Sunday described the ceremonies as a "circus" and Tsvangirai as promiscuous and "sex-crazed."
The state-controlled Sunday Mail said Tsvangirai was a "good-for nothing politician whose mission in politics is to seek power to get sex."
Tsvangirai told wedding guests that the campaign against him was a political ploy meant to incite divisions among Zimbabweans and discredit him ahead of elections expected next year.
The state Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation on Friday broadcast video footage of what it said was Tsvangirai's traditional marriage to the other woman, Locardia Karimatsenga, 39.
"ZBC, shame on you for your unprofessionalism. You are dividing Zimbabwe and sowing hate," Tsvangirai told guests.
Tsvangirai's party, the Movement for Democratic Change, said in a statement before the marriage celebrations that their leader has faced a "well choreographed" smear campaign that is "replete with malice and vindictiveness."
It is "a grand political scheme to besmirch, malign and soil the image of the prime minister for political gain," said Luke Tamborinyoka, Tsvangirai's spokesman, of the state media coverage.
Officials in Tsvangirai's party blame Mugabe loyalists in the Central Intelligence Organization of mounting well-funded campaigns to embarrass him, code-named 'Operation Black Hawk' and 'Operation Spider's Web,' that leaked information from several women claiming to have been ill-treated by Tsvangirai.
The Sunday Mail editorial questioned Tsvangirai's leadership capabilities and said that he no longer has the wishes of the people at heart but is interested in accumulating wealth and women.
The newspaper also accused him of lying under oath over his status with Karimatsenga.
"Can voters trust Tsvangirai? The answer is that you can trust him to own peril," it said.
But Tsvangirai says he is being "condemned, harassed and vilified" for falling in love with the woman of his choosing.
"I love this woman because I chose her myself. I will love her till the day I die," he told his supporters during the ceremony.
Tsvangirai said "love has nothing to do with politics," apparently referring to the fact that his new bride's family belongs to Mugabe's Zanu-PF party.
"I saw a beautiful woman," he said. "I said she is beautiful for someone like me who has an eye for beautiful women."