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Page last updated at 19:29 GMT, Saturday, 7 March 2009

Rumours fly after Tsvangirai crash

Brian Hungwe visits the scene of Friday's car crash near Harare in which Zimbabwe's Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai was injured and his wife Susan killed.

The car Morgan Tsvangirai was riding in during his accident on 6 March
Mr Tsvangirai's car reportedly rolled three times after the collision

A land cruiser lies on its back 24 hours after the car crash, drawing the attention of motorists.

Inside the mangled remains of the vehicle, a continuous warning sound has been hinting all day that doors are open.

Yet the keys are still in the ignition. A shattered windscreen and broken car windows tell an ugly story, as the Toyota Land cruiser rests on its roof besides the road.

Two policemen are on constant guard. Strangers are not allowed up close.

But vehicles are slowing down around the fatal scene. Curious onlookers disembark, say little, and some weep, as they catch a glimpse of the lonely miserable vehicle.

It is difficult to imagine how Mr Tsvangirai escaped relatively unscathed as the heavy vehicle rolled three times after the collision with an oncoming lorry.

One immediately feels pity for his wife Susan, his pillar of strength and mother to the couple's six children.

Questions asked

The Masvingo-Harare road is a two lane route. The place where the crash occurred is on a kilometre-long (0.6 miles) stretch of clear road, sandwiched between two commercial farmlands.

People don't want to believe it was an ordinary accident... They wanted to kill him
Harare's taxi driver

The road evidently requires rehabilitation, but calls for such repairs have fallen on deaf ears over the past years, despite horrifying fatalities involving haulage lorries, buses and ordinary cars.

As the nation ponders on the latest tragedy, many questions are being asked - and concerns are being raised over the security of government officials.

How a convoy of three vehicles, with one in the middle carrying the second most important person in the land, got involved in a car crash, is what has perplexed many people.

The oncoming lorry, which apparently belonged to a partner of the US government aid agency USAID, is thought to have crossed into the prime minister's path, sideswiping the right bumper of Mr Tsvangirai's Land Cruiser, which then rolled off the highway.

Rumours in Harare

"If you look at the circumstances surrounding the accident, they show that there is not as much security as one would have wanted, not that you can prevent an accident, but I'm sure it must give a lot of lessons about the security framework," says Dr Lovemore Madhuku, chairman of a constitutional reform pressure group.

Morgan Tsvangirai in Harare's hospital. Photo: 7 March 2009
Mr Tsvangirai flew to Botswana on Saturday, his party said

"It's very depressing, I think happening within the first three weeks of the new inclusive government. It's unfortunate that the public will find it unbelievable and that could threaten the whole framework of the new government," Dr Madhuku said.

Already, Harare is awash with rumour and speculation.

"People don't want to believe it was an ordinary accident, even if you tell them President Mugabe visited Tsvangirai in hospital hours after the crash," a taxi driver told me.

"Why did the oncoming vehicle target his vehicle, yet there are hundreds other cars that use the same road every hour, it's a busy road?" he asked. "They wanted to kill him."

At the scene of the crash, Deputy Mines Minister and MDC legislator Murisi Zwizwayi is refusing to buy into the story that the encroaching vehicle hit a pothole or hump before crossing the lane.

"Where are the potholes, even humps, here, do you see one, it's just a clear road," he said, almost throwing his hands in exasperation.

"There was a lot of talk around a pothole that is alleged to have caused the accident. It was only proper that we visit the scene. From my own assessment, there is no pothole to talk about as far as this accident is concerned," Mr Zwizwayi said.

'Huge embarrassment'

At the clinic where Mr Tsvangirai was treated, there was heavy security, state agents and armed police. It appeared like a state expression of loyalty, to avoid giving any credence to conspiracy theories.

Susan Tsvangirai. File photo
Mr Tsvangirai lost his wife of 30 years in the crash

"From now on, security around the prime minister will be tighter. I think they will test whatever he drinks or eats first to make sure he doesn't die. It's in their interest to keep him alive now," said a senior MDC official, barred from entering the clinic after the accident.

The treatment centre was besieged by hosts of politicians from across the political divide.

Inside were central bank governor Dr Gideon Gono, Defence Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, head of central intelligence Happyton Bonyongwe, and other party deputy ministers.

"Rarely do prime ministers get involved in car accidents. Plane crashes are more understandable," said a retired army official.

"It shows lack of planning, co-ordination of close security transporting the VIPs in the convoy."

He says that when such a situation arises "countless reports are filed, many questions asked and people tend to lose their jobs".

"This incident," he added, "is no exception."

An MDC insider says what makes this incident more serious is that it is a "huge political embarrassment to the state, particularly President Mugabe that he is failing to provide adequate protection to his prime minister in government".

Given Mr Mugabe's demeanour, a very sad depressed face, as he walked out of the clinic, a lot of people "must be running around".

"Logic would have demanded that a police escort be provided to warn other traffic... and this tragedy could have been avoided," Finance Minister Tendai Biti said, before breaking down at a party news conference.

"The authorities must understand that omission," Mr Biti added.

His tears hint at the growing level of anger and emotion within his party. At his home in Harare, there was weeping and wailing all night, as relatives and friends tried to come to grips with the tragedy.



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