/ 7 March 2009

MDC calls for probe of Tsvangirai crash

The prime minister’s party on Saturday called for an investigation into the car crash that injured Morgan Tsvangirai and killed his wife, 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 Movement for Democratic Change (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 President
Robert Mugabe. At a news conference at party headquarters in Harare, Biti called for an investigation.

Dr Douglas Gwatidzo, head of casualty at the Harare hospital where Tsvangirai was being treated, said the prime minister may be released
from the hospital later in the day. He said Tsvangirai had head injuries and chest pains, but was in stable condition. State television showed pictures of Tsvangirai in a neck brace, which Gwatidzo said was being used to keep him comfortable.

”We might release him today or tomorrow,” Gwatidzo told reporters gathered at the hospital.

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.”

Morgan Tsvangirai’s brother, Casper, greeted visitors paying condolences at his brother’s Harare home on Saturday.

The crash occurred on Friday evening on the outskirts of the capital on a decrepit road notorious for accidents. Like many in Zimbabwe, the
road is in poor condition because it has not been maintained.

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.

The Tsvangirais, who married in 1978 and had three daughters and three sons, often went together to political events, but Susan
Tsvangirai did not have a prominent public role. On Friday they had been headed to a weekend rally in his home region, south of Harare.

Susan Tsvangirai once ran her own sewing and catering businesses, according to an obituary issued by her husband’s party on Saturday. After
her husband, a former labor union leader, went into politics, she turned her attention to women’s and children’s welfare issues, founding a trust that sponsored health, education and feeding projects.

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.

Tsvangirai, who turns 57 next 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-AP