PRINCE Rutendo Madhawu (32), a soldier from 3 Brigade Chikanga, Mutare, cut a forlorn figure in the dock in Court 5 at the Harare Magistrates’ Court.
By PAIDAMOYO MUZULU
He was waiting for his sentence for defaulting on monthly maintenance payments. He had not paid the obligatory maintenance for his child for 19 months and the arrears had ballooned to $950.
Madhawu had been taken to court by his ex-wife on charges of maintenance default as ordered by the Harare Civil Court which had ruled that he should pay $50 every month for the maintenance of the child they had during their short-lived marriage.
He had admitted to the charge and in mitigation pleaded with magistrate Elijah Makomo that he would lose his job if he was sent to prison.
“Please don’t incarcerate me for more than three months since this will result in my automatic discharge from employment with the Zimbabwe National Army,” Madhawu pleaded.
In his judgement, Makomo said; “Next time consider these implications before you default. You are therefore sentenced to four months wholly suspended on condition that you pay $800 immediately and the remainder should be settled by October 30 this year.”
Madhawu breathed a sigh of relief as he was led down to the holding cells where he was to be held until he paid the required $800 through the Clerk of Court.
Madhawu’s case is not isolated. In the past month alone, no less than five men have been sentenced to between three and six months in prison for defaulting on maintenance.
In one case, magistrate Tendai Mahwe while passing sentence said, “You think your children are like worms which feed on soil? The courts have the means to induce you to pay. You are sentenced to three months in prison and when you come back you will be expected to settle the arrears.”
The rising number of defaulters is indicative of the prevailing difficult times in Zimbabwe where several companies are downsizing and kicking thousands of employees onto the streets.
Thousands of workers lost their jobs after the Supreme Court ruling that legalised termination of contracts of permanent employees under common law.
In mitigation, Madhawu told the court that his marriage collapsed because of financial problems.
“I defaulted because I was angry with my ex-wife after she dumped me upon her return from the United Kingdom because then I was unemployed,” Madhawu said.
Of the six that were found on the wrong side of the law last month, four were unemployed with the exception of the soldier and a 51-year-old teacher.
In one exceptional case, Mahwe saved Dorothy Manjoro from custodial sentence by giving her time to settle $1 490 arrears she owed her ex-husband Philimon in maintenance.
Before their divorce, the couple owned a house which they decided not to sell, opting to share the proceeds but agreed that the house would be rented out and they share the rentals. However, Dorothy received the rentals and failed to give Philimon his share.
The growing prevalence of divorce in Zimbabwe is shown from statistics released by the High Court recently. The statistics show that in 2013 alone, the Harare High Court handled a staggering 1 270 divorce applications and 550 decrees of divorce were granted.
These statistics are, however, just a tip of an iceberg as many more Zimbabweans are in unregistered customary marriages which start and end without official records.
The problems of sustaining maintenance have not spared the rich and famous. In the past month, Energy and Power Development minister, Samuel Undenge unsuccessfully applied to the High Court for stoppage of maintenance for his daughter who recently turned 18.
His predecessor Dzikamai Mavhaire has also approached the Civil Court to have maintenance for his child born out of wedlock reviewed downwards as he claims his fortunes nose-dived after his sacking from government.
Sungura king Alick Macheso has also sought a downward variation of maintenance for his two children with Tafadzwa Mapako from $750 a month to $450, citing the declining revenues in the music industry.
With the continued economic nosedive, lawyers say many divorced men will likely be seeking downward variation of maintenance orders granted against them or will find themselves in the dock for defaulting.