Page last updated at 22:20 GMT, Friday, 6 March 2009

Zimbabwe PM's wife dies in crash


Robert Mugabe visits Morgan Tsvangirai in hospital

The wife of Zimbabwe's Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has been killed in a car crash in which he was also slightly hurt, party officials say.

Susan Tsvangirai was travelling with her husband south of Harare when their vehicle was in collision with a lorry.

Mr Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party, formed a unity government with President Robert Mugabe last month.

Mr Mugabe and his wife have visited his former long-term rival in hospital.

Speaking outside the private clinic in Harare, Mr Tsvangirai's spokesman James Maridadi said of the prime minister: "I saw him. I spoke to him. He walked from the vehicle that brought him to hospital, he is fine."

Morgan and Susan Tsvangirai in Harare, March 2006
Morgan and Susan Tsvangirai had been married for 31 years

Finance Minister Tendai Biti, a senior MDC official, also told reporters that Mr Tsvangirai was "stable", adding that doctors would give further details in due course.

State television reported that the prime minister, who will turn 57 next week, had suffered some injuries to his head and neck.

The report quoted police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena as saying that a lorry carrying freight had crossed into the lane in which Mr Tsvangirai's 4x4 was travelling and had side-swiped his vehicle, causing it to roll over three times.

The prime minister was on his way to his rural home in Buhera, where he planned to hold a weekend rally, when the crash occurred near Beatrice at about 1600 local time (1400 GMT).

The AFP quoted an MDC minister as saying the driver of the lorry had been asleep at the wheel.

The BBC's Peter Biles in Johannesburg says that given the fierce rivalry between Zimbabwe's political parties, there will - inevitably - be speculation about the cause of this crash.

So far, though, officials of Mr Tsvangirai's MDC party have said nothing to suggest that there may have been foul play, our correspondent says.

All Zimbabwe's roads are in a poor state of repair, after years of neglect and the collapse of the country's infrastructure, he adds.

'Source of strength'

The crash comes just two days after Mr Tsvangirai delivered his maiden speech to parliament after being sworn in as prime minister in Zimbabwe's power-sharing government.

It is a very sad day for me and for all Zimbabweans, whether they be at home or abroad
Thabitha Khumalo
MP for the MDC
He and his wife Susan, who married in 1978, had six children.

Thabitha Khumalo, a member of parliament for the MDC who is in Scotland for an international women's conference, told the BBC that the loss of Mrs Tsvangirai, whom she had known well, was a "huge blow" for the country.

"It is a very sad day for me and for all Zimbabweans, whether they be at home or abroad. She was a mother figure for the whole nation," she said.

"Few people knew about her work. Whenever they saw her she was accompanying her husband to court or to vote, but very few people knew she played a very crucial role behind closed doors...

"She was a pillar of strength to [her husband]. In a struggle like his, you need someone to lean on and she was always there for him."

A look at the important role Susan Tsvangirai played in her husband's life

The BBC's Andrew Harding in Johannesburg says that Mrs Tsvangirai was very discreet and stayed out of the limelight, but was a very important part of her husband's life.

She was a great source of strength to her husband when in the past he was charged with treason and assaulted for his opposition to Mr Mugabe, and sat through all his treason trial, our correspondent says.

She also made a point of visiting MDC members who were jailed while the party was in opposition, he adds.

Her death comes at a very challenging time for the fledgling power-sharing government, our correspondent says, and will only make matters more complicated.

Mr Tsvangirai still relied on his own security teams and used his own convoys when he travelled, he adds, in a sign that he was not entirely comfortable with the security provided by the new government.

Tense relations

The UK's Foreign Office expressed "deep sadness" at the news of Mrs Tsvangirai's death.

"We are deeply saddened to hear news of Susan Tsvangirai's death and we offer our condolences," a spokeswoman said. "We are monitoring the situation closely."

Relations between the MDC and Mr Mugabe's Zanu-PF party remain tense, with MDC ministerial nominee Roy Bennett still in custody, accused of links to an alleged plot to kill Mr Mugabe.

The MDC says the arrest - which happened on the day MDC ministers joined the power-sharing government - is a political manoeuvre by hard-line supporters of Mr Mugabe to destabilise the unity administration.

A magistrate who ordered the release of Mr Bennett was arrested on Friday.

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