Tsvangirai: Crash was an accident

HARARE - Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai said on Monday that a car crash that injured him and killed his wife was an accident.

"In such incidents there is always speculation, but in this case I want to assure you that if there was any foul play it would probably be one in 1 000," he told mourners outside his home after returning from Botswana where he received medical treatment.

"It was an accident which unfortunately took a life. I am sure that life has to go on and I’m sure she [his wife Susan] would have liked for life to go on."

The tragedy comes at a difficult time for Tsvangirai, who is under mounting pressure to rescue the shattered economy under a new unity government with President Robert Mugabe, his old rival.

Many Zimbabweans are suspicious about Friday’s crash on a dangerous potholed highway, neglected like many others during the southern African country’s economic decline.

The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) on Saturday called for an investigation into the car crash, but warned Zimbabweans not to jump to conclusions about the cause.

Rumours that the crash that killed Susan Tsvangirai was not an accident were inevitable given the history of political violence in a country battered by economic and humanitarian crisis.

"We cannot talk of foul play … until it has been proved what has really transpired," said Tendai Biti, Tsvangirai’s No 2 in the MDC party and the country’s new finance minister.

He added that the crash "could have been avoided" had Tsvangirai been afforded the kind of motorcade that usually travels with Mugabe. At a news conference at party headquarters in Harare, Biti called for an investigation.

The driver of the truck that slammed into Tsvangirai’s vehicle and forced it to roll appeared at a court in Chivhu, 150km south of Harare, on Monday, accompanied by three plain-clothed policemen.

Chinoona Mwanda’s application for bail was granted and he was remanded to appear back in court on March 23, said his lawyer Chris Mhike.

Tsvangirai’s wife of 31 years described as a pillar of strength during his 10, often trying, years of opposition to Mugabe, is expected to be buried on Wednesday.

Questions may arise over how quickly Tsvangirai can recover from the loss and get down to the urgent task of easing an economic crisis squeezing millions of Zimbabweans.

Ian Makone, a secretary to the prime minister and member of his MDC party, said Tsvangirai was "very devastated by the death of his wife".

‘Truck was transporting Aids medicine’

A United States embassy official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the official spokesperson was not immediately available, said on Saturday that the truck involved was transporting Aids medicine donated by the US government. It was driven by a Zimbabwean contracted by the US.

State television said the truck swerved on an uneven stretch of road. Tsvangirai’s spokesperson James Maridadi earlier said Tsvangirai’s car sideswiped the truck and rolled at least three times.

Police spokesperson Superintendent Andrew Phiri told the state-run newspaper the Herald the truck may have struck an object on the road before it veered.

The Herald also reported on Saturday that the two other people in Tsvangirai’s car — the driver and a bodyguard — were also injured.

The paper added the driver and occupants of the truck were taken to a police station, but it was unclear whether they had been arrested.

Susan Tsvangirai (50) was pronounced dead soon after arrival at a clinic about 40km from Harare, Makone said. He said her children were flying to Zimbabwe from Australia and South Africa and funeral arrangements were being made.

Britain and the US, both supporters of Tsvangirai, sent condolences. South Africa, which played a key role in negotiating a power-sharing deal that made Tsvangirai prime minister, also expressed condolences.

Mugabe spent about an hour at the hospital late on Friday. He and other senior aides, who also visited, did not speak to reporters or Tsvangirai supporters gathered outside.

‘I just prayed’

Tsvangirai, who turns 57 this week, was sworn in on February 11 as Zimbabwe’s prime minister in a power-sharing deal meant to end almost a year of deadly stalemate with Mugabe.

The unity government was formed under pressure from neighbouring governments who wanted Zimbabwean leaders to turn their attention to a growing humanitarian and economic crisis after years of rivalry between Tsvangirai and Mugabe, who has been in power since independence from Britain in 1980.

Zimbabwe has the world’s highest official inflation rate, a hunger crisis that has left most of its people dependent on foreign handouts and a cholera epidemic blamed on the collapse of a once-enviable health and sanitation system.

Tsvangirai formed his MDC party a decade ago.

As it emerged as a serious political challenger, Tsvangirai repeatedly faced the wrath of Mugabe’s Zanu-PF. He has been beaten and was once nearly thrown from a 10th floor window by suspected government thugs.

Tsvangirai’s party on Saturday quoted his wife as once saying there were times when she so feared for her husband’s safety that "sleeping was no longer part of my life. I just prayed.

"But at the end of the day, I had to support my husband."

SAPA/Associated Press (AP)/ Reuters

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