Mugabe wishes Tsvangirai strength for the work ahead

President Robert Mugabe joined hundreds of Zimbabweans on Tuesday to mourn the wife of the prime minister, wishing his rival-turned-coalition partner strength for the nation-building work ahead.

Mugabe addressed about 1 000 government and political leaders and diplomats in the Harare Methodist church of which Susan Tsvangirai, killed in a car crash on Friday, had been a member.

Her husband, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, and their children were also in the church. Her body rested in a closed, flower-draped coffin. Scores of Zimbabweans gathered outside.

“We are sincerely saddened by the death of Susan and we hope that Morgan will remain strong,” Mugabe said.
He added that the new coalition government had just begun efforts to rebuild a country beset by political and economic crisis.

Mugabe said the wives of politicians play important supporting roles, noting Susan Tsvangirai was by her husband’s side when Mugabe administered the prime minister’s oath on February 11.

Mugabe agreed to share power with Tsvangirai under pressure from the leaders of neighbouring countries after a year of political violence and deadlock following presidential elections in which Tsvangirai won the most votes. Tsvangirai pulled out of a run-off because of state-sponsored attacks on his supporters, and Mugabe claimed victory despite widespread criticism that the second round was neither free nor fair.

Zimbabwe’s long history of political violence blamed on Mugabe’s forces fuelled speculation that Friday’s crash, in which the prime minister was slightly injured, was not an accident. Tsvangirai tried to quell the rumours on Monday, telling mourners there was “no foul play” in the crash.

Susan Tsvangirai’s father, who addressed mourners at the church on behalf of the family, spoke of sitting down with his son-in-law recently to discuss how power-sharing would work. Emanuel Mhundwa said he had hoped to see his daughter help the prime minister “bring peace and stability to the country”.

Hazel Makumbo, a 22-year-old Harare resident who joined the crowd outside the church on Tuesday, said she wanted to pay respects to a woman who “was helping Morgan in trying to bring democracy and good things to Zimbabwe”.

About 10 000 Zimbabweans were waiting at Harare’s fair grounds for a public memorial that was to follow the church service. In recent days, thousands of Zimbabweans have paid their respects at the Tsvangirai home in the capital.

The outpouring of sympathy is evidence of support for Tsvangirai, but also a release for emotions that have been building during months of economic collapse and of political unrest that has seen hundreds of political and human rights activists jailed, tortured and killed.

Zimbabwe’s unity government faces 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.

The United Nations said Monday that the number of cholera deaths had topped 4 000, with more than 89 000 cases.—Sapa-AP

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