HARARE A legal bid by a former lover of Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai to stop his wedding on Saturday has laid bare a messy private life and damaged the political reputation of the main rival to long-serving leader Robert Mugabe.
Locardia Karimatsenga, 39, filed a High Court injunction to block Tsvangirai's wedding to fiancee Elizabeth Macheka, arguing that she was his wife under the former British colony's "customary marriage" law.
Judge Antonia Guvava ruled on Wednesday that the wedding should go ahead but Karimatsenga's lawyer said he would appeal, meaning the saga could yet take another twist.
The case has sparked a frenzy in Harare newspapers, which have plastered their front pages with headlines such as "Tsvangirai wedding war", "Plot against PM intensifies" and "D-Day for PM Wedding".
Having the nuptials blocked would be a major embarrassment for Tsvangirai, who had been expected to invite Mugabe, his partner in a fractious coalition formed after a disputed 2008 election, and some foreign leaders to the ceremony.
While 88-year-old Mugabe has been criticized for turning what was once one of Africa's strongest economies into a basket case, Tsvangirai is now being publicly questioned over his relationships with women and money.
His personal troubles started after the death of his wife, Susan, in a 2009 car crash. They have handed Mugabe political ammunition as he seeks to extend his three-decade rule in an election expected within a year.
Karimatsenga, a tall and sturdily built woman said by local newspapers to have a taste for luxury, alleged she had suffered a miscarriage while carrying Tsvangirai's child last year and that this had "mentally devastated him".
In June, the 60-year-old also confirmed newspaper reports that he had fathered a love child with a 24-year-old woman in the second city of Bulawayo and that he was looking after them both.
"It is embarrassing, plain and simple," a top official in Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) told Reuters. "It is an unwanted distraction which we would rather not have."
The High Court has also received another application from Karimatsenga in which she demands $15,000 from Tsvangirai for her monthly upkeep, including $1,700 for "hair and beauty therapy" and $1,200 for telephone bills.
She is also seeking $3,000 for rent, $4,000 for groceries and $1,500 as a clothing allowance - arguing that Tsvangirai has the money.
The sums compare to per capita GDP of $800 a year in Zimbabwe, where government workers earn an average $300 a month. Making matters worse for Tsvangirai is his recent move into a $3 million state residence.
Mugabe's ZANU-PF is certain to pounce on Tsvangirai's private life in any election campaign, using it to paint him as an unreliable leader. Politburo member Jonathan Moyo has derided Tsvangirai in newspapers for having an "open zip and shut mind".
(Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by Ed Cropley and Matthew Tostevin)