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Zimbabwe prime minister hurt, wife dies in crash

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and his wife were in a convoy headed for their rural home when hit by a truck. Foul play against the longtime opponent of President Robert Mugabe is discounted.

March 07, 2009|Godwin Mangudya and Robyn Dixon

HARARE, ZIMBABWE, AND JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA — Zimbabwe's new prime minister was slightly injured and his wife killed Friday when their car collided with a truck on one of the nation's notoriously bad roads, officials with his party told reporters outside the Harare hospital where he was being treated.

Morgan Tsvangirai, 56, was sworn in last month as prime minister of a unity government in the troubled southern African nation after years in opposition to the regime of President Robert Mugabe. Tsvangirai and his wife, Susan, were en route to their rural home in the eastern district of Buhera, where a rally was planned for Saturday, when the crash occurred.

Information about how the accident happened and the nature of the prime minister's injuries was sketchy, but a party aide said Tsvangirai's life was not at risk.

Party officials at the hospital in Harare, the capital, confirmed the death of Susan Tsvangirai unofficially but said the family and doctors would release a formal statement later.

Mugabe, who lost his first wife, Sally, to kidney failure in 1992, visited Tsvangirai at the hospital for more than an hour. The president was accompanied by a high-level delegation that included his current wife, Grace, Defense Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa and Reserve Bank Gov. Gideon Gono.

James Maridadi, a spokesman for Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change, or MDC, told journalists at the hospital that the prime minister was in a three-car convoy when a truck narrowly missed the leading car but hit the second, which was carrying Tsvangirai and his wife. The couple's vehicle rolled three times, he said, and Susan Tsvangirai was thrown out of the car. He would not comment on reports that an aide was also injured in the crash.

The couple had been married 31 years, with six children.

Morgan Tsvangirai, who will turn 57 Tuesday, recently told journalists that he planned to celebrate quietly at home with his wife and a cake from the local supermarket.

Tsvangirai, a former union official, is described by his friends as a humble family man who was very close to his wife. One colleague, Gift Chimanikire, described Susan sitting in the room knitting as he and her husband discussed setting up an opposition party in the 1990s.

"If you are eating a meal at Morgan's rural home, you know that Susan has prepared it herself. They're real village people and it's a real village home. They're real Africans," said Lucia Matibenga, vice president of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, in a recent Harare interview. Matibenga, an MDC lawmaker, helped found the party with Tsvangirai.

Accidents are common in Zimbabwe, with the country's single-lane highways cratered with deep potholes. Last year a senior official with Mugabe's ZANU-PF party died when his Mercedes-Benz blew a tire.

Tsvangirai was the target of several assassination attempts while he was an opposition leader. His car was tampered with in one plot; on another occasion, thugs believed to be tied to Mugabe's government tried to throw him out his office window. He was severely beaten by police in 2007.

There were no immediate reports suggesting that the crash Friday was suspicious.

In his new role as prime minister, Tsvangirai faces a massive task in getting schools and hospitals working again and reviving the paralyzed economy. He has called for Western aid and the lifting of Western sanctions against Mugabe and his cronies.

The unity government has been strained over the detention of activists, among them senior MDC member Roy Bennett. Some of the activists were granted bail in recent days.

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robyn.dixon@latimes.com

Mangudya is a special correspondent.

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