Tsvangirai rules out foul play in car crash

HARARE (Reuters) – Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai on Monday ruled out foul play as the cause of a car crash that injured him and killed his wife last Friday, easing concerns that it would increase tensions in the new government.

The tragedy comes at a difficult time for Tsvangirai, who is under pressure to rescue the shattered economy in a new unity government with President Robert Mugabe, his old rival.

"In such incidents there is always speculation but in this case I want to assure you that if there was any foul play it would probably be one in 1,000," he told mourners after returning home from medical treatment in Botswana.

"It was an accident which unfortunately took a life. I am sure that life has to go on and I’m sure she would have liked for life to go on," he said, referring to his late wife Susan.

Many Zimbabweans are suspicious about Friday’s crash on a dangerous potholed highway, neglected like many others during the southern African country’s economic decline.

The driver of the truck that slammed into Tsvangirai’s vehicle and forced it to roll off the road appeared at a court in Chivhu, 150 km (around 90 miles) south of Harare, on Monday, accompanied by three plain-clothed policemen.

Chinoona Mwanda’s application for bail was granted and he was remanded to return to court on March 23, said his lawyer Chris Mhike.

Tsvangirai’s wife of 31 years, a pillar of strength during 10 often trying years of opposition to Mugabe, is expected to be buried on Wednesday. 

"It will be difficult to fill in the gap. We have gone through trials and tribulations together, I know it’s painful, but let’s mourn with hope," said Tsvangirai, his face swollen from injuries sustained in the crash.

Questions may arise over how quickly Tsvangirai can recover from the loss and get down to the urgent task of easing an economic crisis squeezing millions of Zimbabweans.

"I don’t think this will have any significant impact on the inclusive government and how he operates in it, except that the MDC should now demand higher security for the prime minister," said political commentator and Mugabe critic John Makumbe:

Mugabe’s ZANU-PF and Tsvangirai’s MDC signed a power-sharing deal in September then formed a government seen as a chance to rescue once prosperous Zimbabwe, ruled by Mugabe since independence from Britain in 1980.

Tsvangirai must find a way to work with Mugabe and win over Western donors who insist on democracy and economic reforms in Zimbabwe before providing crucial aid. The arrest of activists and other issues have created friction between them.

"Apart from the tragedy itself, I am worried about Tsvangirai’s own emotional and mental state. The country needs him badly," said Tonderai Chari, an office worker.

"Who knows? Some good might come out of this, after all, the president (Mugabe) visiting Tsvangirai in hospital might be the beginning of better relations, despite these sad circumstances."

Zimbabweans are suffering from the world’s highest inflation rate and severe food and fuel shortages and they were hoping a new leadership would ease their deepening hardships.

A cholera outbreak has added to the urgency of tackling a humanitarian crisis. It has killed more than 4,000 people out of 89,018 cases, according to the World Health Organisation.