/ 10 March 2009

Mugabe: Tsvangirai crash was ‘the hand of God’

Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe said the car crash that killed Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s wife was ”the hand of God”, speaking at a funeral service on Tuesday.

”It will take him time to recover from this shock. I plead with you to accept it, it’s the hand of God,” Mugabe told hundreds of mourners gathered at a Methodist church in Harare. A raft of senior officials from both the Zanu-PF and Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) attended the service.

The remarks were Mugabe’s first public comments on the crash that killed Susan Tsvangirai and injured her husband on Friday.

An oncoming truck slammed into their 4×4 on a potholed highway outside Harare, sending their vehicle flipping off the road. She died instantly and Tsvangirai suffered minor injuries. He was briefly hospitalised in Harare and flew over the weekend for further medical checks in Botswana, but quickly returned home to prepare the funeral.

Mugabe and his wife Grace visited Tsvangirai in hospital shortly after the collision, which had sparked speculation that the crash was linked to a long history of political leaders dying in suspicious accidents.

But Tsvangirai has sought to dispel fears the accident could have been linked to a long history of deadly political trickery in Zimbabwe, ruling out any foul play in her death.

”It was an accident and unfortunately it took her life,” he told mourners gathered at his home on Monday.

”I want to thank God for giving me 31 years with my wife,” he said.

”Life will go on, and I am certain she would have liked life to go on.”

Mugabe, whose supporters staged deadly attacks against Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) around last year’s elections, said on Tuesday it was time for Zimbabwe to move past the violence.

”We are doing our best that we create a conducive environment and tell our supporters that the issue of violence must end,” he said.

”Rest assured we are with you, honourable prime minister. Our hearts on this day and the days to follow, we are with you,” he added.

Susan Tsvangirai’s body would be taken to the couple’s Harare home later on Tuesday, before burial on Wednesday in their hometown Buhera, the MDC said.

Mugabe and Tsvangirai formed a unity government four weeks ago in a bid to end a year of political turmoil and pull the country from economic ruin, but their coalition has been dogged by doubts due to the arrest of a top Tsvangirai aide and disputes over top political appointments.

Hundreds gather to say goodbye
Hundreds of mourners on Tuesday spilled out the Methodist church in Harare for the funeral service.

An inter-denominational choir sang dirges as the hearse arrived and Tsvangirai, dressed in black, entered the church.

The church service was to be followed by a larger public memorial at a Harare stadium, the same venue where just four weeks ago Tsvangirai was cheered as the new prime minister in the unity government.

The crash and Susan Tsvangirai’s death have overshadowed the new government’s work to rebuild an economy devastated by world-record hyperinflation with more than half the population dependent on foreign food aid for survival.

Susan Tsvangirai (50) generally avoided the political spotlight.

She founded a charity to teach women about Aids, which has expanded to provide other health and social services in a nation where health care has collapsed.

The MDC is conducting its own investigation into the crash, but has not alleged foul play. Doubts about the incident eased after Washington and London said the truck was owned by a joint US-British aid project that delivers HIV/Aids drugs.

London has denied that the driver fell asleep at the wheel or had been drinking and said the crash a ”genuine accident”.

Still, the accident has overshadowed pressing concerns challenging the new government.

One of Tsvangirai’s top aides, Roy Bennett, was arrested on February 13 as the Cabinet was being sworn in on weapons charges. A judge has granted him bail, but he remains in prison as prosecutors wage a series of appeals.

The Supreme Court was hearing arguments over his bail as the church service was getting underway.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has also dispatched a team to Zimbabwe, the first since December 2006, when the southern African country only narrowly avoided expulsion from the organisation.

But the global lender has indicated that it could be willing to work with the new government, and Tsvangirai has said that restoring ties with the IMF are a priority for his government.

Economic Planning Minister Elton Mangoma said in the state-run Herald newspaper that his talks with the IMF have been ”positive”.

”They have told us that they are willing to immediately assist us,” he said in the paper. — Sapa-AFP