Page last updated at 22:44 GMT, Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Zimbabwe mourns 'mother of struggle'

Mourners gather around the coffin of Susan Tsvangirai
Memorial events took place in church and in a Harare sports stadium

Zimbabweans have been mourning Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's wife, Susan, who was killed in a car crash four days ago. Brian Hungwe joined those paying their respects.

Inside the Malbereign Methodist Church in Harare, a beige gleaming coffin held the body of Mrs Tsvangirai, wearing a red and white church uniform.

The coffin was placed in the centre of the church, separating former political rivals President Robert Mugabe of Zanu PF party, and Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Mr Tsvangirai.

Many words have been exchanged before - some harsh and ugly
Robert Mugabe

The church was crowded, and others - among them diplomats - watched the proceedings from outside.

As priests took turns at the pulpit, their message was bold and clear - Zimbabwe's political leadership must take a hard look in the mirror.

"God works in mysterious ways," said Pastor Kampira.

"He has brought together former rivals, we should rejoice," he said, indicating that the days of political quarrels should be a thing of the past.

Mugabe applause

Human rights groups blame the politicians for instigating violence that has divided families and set a mist of hate and grief in the communities.

In a speech delivered to mourners from the pulpit, Mr Mugabe said: "We have many followers. So many have lost their lives. Gone should be the days of violence."

His voice was low, his delivery composed - a far cry from his invective against his former rival.

Morgan Tsvangirai
Morgan Tsvangirai had been planning his 57th birthday celebrations

"Many words have been exchanged before - some harsh and ugly," said Mr Mugabe, receiving a round of applause from the congregation.

In his sermon, Rev Joseph Muwanzi reminded President Mugabe that his party's supreme organ, the Politburo, decides who should be accorded national hero status.

But the priest noted that ultimately it is God who will judge all our actions by deciding after our burial who should go to heaven or hell.

As the priest spoke, Mr Mugabe looked in pensive mood while Mr Tsvangirai seemed to be distressed.

As the convoy of vehicles left the church, a 500m stretch of road was turned into flickering stream of traffic.

'Pillar of strength'

Away from the church service, mourners clad in MDC party regalia gathered at a Harare stadium to play their part on a day of remembrance.

Some of their shirts were emblazoned with the slogan "vote MDC".

Some women took the opportunity to send a message that MDC activists arrested on charges of plotting to topple President Mugabe should be released.

Robert Mugabe (L) and his wife Grace
President Mugabe called for an end to the "days of violence"

Thousands of MDC supporters heard Tendai Biti - a close ally of Mr Tsvangirai - pay tribute to the prime minister's late wife.

"[Mr Tsvangirai's] only pillar of strength has been his wife, Susan, who provided the food, the comfort and attention throughout his treason trial… and assassination attempt," Mr Biti said.

"Throughout his stay in detention in prisons, she is the one who provided the food," he said.

On hearing of Mrs Tsvangirai's death, Mr Biti said he was so shocked that he "couldn't feel the pain".

"She was the mother to our struggle, who mothered and breastfed that struggle. She was there when we were beaten up, assaulted."

The irony of the day, he said, was that Mr Tsvangirai was celebrating his 57th birthday staring at the coffin of his companion of 31 years.

"God works in strange ways," Mr Biti said.

"This is one of them. She died in the process of preparing her husband's birthday."

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