Susan Tsvangirai hoped to nurture a nation

Susan Tsvangirai, the wife of Zimbabwe’s Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, was killed on Friday, at the age of 50, when a seven-ton aid truck hammered into their four-wheel-drive. It was part of a convoy of three vehicles passing along potholed roads. Morgan went into hospital in Harare with head and neck injuries before being flown out to Botswana.

Parallels were drawn between this new but short-lived figure in the senior echelons of Zimbabwe’s government, and the country’s first lady, President Robert Mugabe’s wife, Grace—the “queen of consumers”, whose spending habits have contributed to the collapse of morale in the country.
The wife of the new premier—he was sworn in on February 11—had run a sewing and catering business before her husband went into politics. She made her own alterations to clothes she had bought from discount stores.

Susan was born in Buhera, as was Morgan, about 50km south of Harare, the country’s capital; the convoy in which the fatal accident happened was heading there so that Morgan could address a rally in his home region the following day. The couple met in 1978, when Morgan was foreman of a local nickel mine. They married later that year, and had three daughters and three sons together.

An unquestioning supporter of her husband, she said of him in an interview shortly before her death: “He is a good man, husband and a loving father. Once he sets his eyes on a target he never takes his eyes off the target until he has achieved it.

“He is a man of great determination, and above all a man of great courage. I think he has proved his courage to the world. He has fought Mugabe for 10 years and is still fighting. We all know that Mugabe’s tactics are not always above board, but that didn’t faze my Morgan.”

In 2003 she was very distressed to see him in prison and sat in court to hear the treason proceedings against him. She visited him in prison and saw the gashes in his head after he was arrested and assaulted in March 2007. As she put it: “I would be lying if I said it has been easy. There were times when I so feared for my husband’s life that sleeping was no longer part of my life, I just prayed. As a mother, I feared for my children. I felt that they were so vulnerable. But at the end of the day I had to support my husband, that is the role of a wife, a good wife at least.”

A deeply religious woman committed to the alleviation of poverty and HIV/Aids, she ran a soup kitchen from her own home in Harare. Though she often accompanied her husband to political events, she rarely spoke publicly: when she did, her personal charm proved very effective.

Perhaps to distract herself from fears about her family, she set up the Comfort, or Nyaradzo Trust, the Shona word being taken from her middle name. Subsequently renamed the Susan Nyaradzo Tsvangirai Foundation, it aims to help Zimbabweans, particularly women and children. She wanted “to not only feed them but teach them to feed themselves. Return normality to children’s lives. Seeing them playing in the parks, going to school. The way things used to be in this beautiful country. Help get things back to what they were, and make them even better if time permits.”

Sadly, in Susan Tsvangirai’s case, it did not. She is survived by Morgan and her children.—

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