/ 9 March 2009

Tsvangirai: Crash was an accident

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 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.

”It will be difficult to fill in the gap. We have gone through trials and tribulations together, I know it’s painful, but let’s mourn with hope,” said Tsvangirai, his face swollen from injuries sustained in the crash.

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.

”I don’t think this will have any significant impact on the inclusive government and how he operates in it, except that the MDC should now demand higher security for the prime minister,” said political commentator and Mugabe critic John Makumbe:

Mugabe’s Zanu-PF and Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change signed a power-sharing deal in September then formed a government seen as a chance to rescue once prosperous Zimbabwe, ruled by Mugabe since independence from Britain in 1980.

Tsvangirai must find a way to work with Mugabe and win over Western donors who insist on democracy and economic reforms in Zimbabwe before providing crucial aid. The arrest of activists and other issues have created friction between them.

Zimbabweans are suffering from the world’s highest inflation rate and severe food and fuel shortages and they were hoping a new leadership would ease their deepening hardships.

‘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 in the crash 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-AP, Reuters