The Zimbabwean government's suspension of weddings in an attempt to curb "marriages of convenience" has spread confusion amounting to panic as numerous ordinary Zimbabweans have seen their nuptials cancelled at the last minute.
The Registrar General's Office said weddings had been suspended until new "biometric" certificates can be issued in an effort to stop illegal immigrants getting into the country.
The new document has a watermark, provision for passport-size photos of the groom and bride, and a space for thumbprints.
Registrar-General Tobaiwa Mudede said the certificate would help curb fraud and was part of a crackdown against illegal immigrants. He warned registrars that they would be arrested if they did not follow the new regulations.
Marriage officers across the country have warned that more weddings would be cancelled because marriage officers, particularly those in remote rural areas, would not be able to pick up the new documents easily.
Zimbabwe Catholic Bishop's Conference secretary-general, Bishop Frederick Chiromba, said the new certificates had made things even more complicated.
"We feel it is creating more work and inconvenience for marrying couples and marriage officers as they are now expected to produce passport-size photos and fingerprints. We understand that the intention is to fight marriages of convenience but one would hope to see these things go when the situation normalises," Chiromba said.
Muzvare Betty Makoni, a Zimbabwean activist and CEO of Girl Child Network Worldwide, said the move would not tackle the problem of forced marriages.
"While foreigners might come to Zimbabwe and get married to obtain citizenship, how many Zimbabwean men still are still allowed to have several wives because of customary law?" she asked.
"As long as customary law allows for men to have several wives in Zimbabwe, marriages of convenience will still exist. This is just hypocrisy."
Scores of weddings had to be cancelled in just a few days, the Zimbabwean press reported.
The head of marriages in the Registrar-General's Office, Gorden Tsuro, said: "We cannot treat marriage officers differently. We want everyone to follow the new arrangement by using the new certificates.
"We have the certificates in stock and we keep getting consignments on a daily basis so it is up to the marriage officers to come and collect them."
Mudede said that officers had to produce practising certificates and a letter of confirmation from their head of denomination to collect the new documents.