Zimbabwe mourns Susan Tsvangirai

HARARE – Zimbabwe's prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai left hospital on Saturday night to join a nation in mourning for his wife, Susan, who died in a car crash on Friday. As tributes were being made to the country's popular first lady, the MDC party was demanding an independent investigation into the cause of the accident that killed her and left her husband and their driver injured.

Susan Tsvangirai (49) was thrown from the couple’s Land Cruiser as it somersaulted off the road after being hit by an aid truck on a potholed road, south of the capital Harare. On Saturday, Tsvangirai, who suffered neck and head injuries, was said to be "totally devastated".

The 57-year-old left the private Avenues Clinic in Harare late on Saturday afternoon, surrounded by tight security.

Movement for Democratic Change officials were trying to damp down suspicion that the accident could have been a botched assassination attempt on their new prime minister, sworn in less than a month ago as part of a power-sharing agreement with President Robert Mugabe and his ruling Zanu-PF party.

"The nation is in pain, the nation is in shock. We have all lost a mother," said Nelson Chamisa, an MDC spokesperson. He said speculation over the cause of the accident was unhelpful.

"Police are doing their investigations and will have a report soon," he said. But it became clear the MDC had been concerned enough to dispatch a local union official to examine the wreckage within an hour of the crash.

Deon Theron, a cattle farmer, said he had been called and asked to go to the scene to check the Toyota’s brakes and steering. It had not been tampered with, he said, adding that he had taken photographs until the police officers on the scene confiscated his camera. He said the tar road had recently been poorly repaired.

The United States-donated aid truck, normally used to transport medicines, was being driven by a Zimbabwean man employed using money from a British development agency. Police said the driver admitted that he had fallen asleep at the wheel and veered into the oncoming Tsvangirai convoy.

The Tsvangirais have six children and two grandchildren. Their four oldest children were last night on their way back to Zimbabwe from their homes in Australia and South Africa, while ordinary Zimbabweans from Harare and beyond where making a pilgrimage to the Tsvangirais’ home to pay their respects to the family of the woman they called amai — mother — of Zimbabwe.

Fears were growing over how Tsvangirai would cope with losing the woman who has been at his side for more than 30 years, and a key adviser. He has said that marrying her in 1979 was the best decision of his life, and she was devoted to him.

She was close to collapse after seeing her husband in prison in 2003 and was there supporting him in court when he faced treason charges.

"It is an enormous loss for Morgan and for both sides of the family. They are a very close-knit family," said Sekai Holland, a MDC MP. "She helped raise Morgan’s brothers and sisters, too, and was a wonderful woman. To the women of the MDC she was such a figure, all of us looked to her; she was there at the beginning."

In a rare interview in 2003, Susan Tsvangirai promised she would one day serve tea in state house, and take up the cause of HIV and Aids sufferers, as well as standing up for women’s rights.

"Women at the grassroots level would be my main focus," she said.

Jenni Williams, of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (Woza), said: "We have certainly long awaited a decent first lady to help further women’s rights."

Mugabe visited Tsvangirai in hospital on Friday night and on Saturday said the accident was a blow to a nation celebrating a new power-sharing government.

"We were celebrating this major development when tragedy struck. It is very sad indeed," Mugabe said. – guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2009