The wife of Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai was killed and he was injured in a car accident in Zimbabwe on Friday, according to officials from Tsvangirai’s MDC (Movement for Democratic Change) party.
Just a month after Tsvangirai formed a unity government with his bitter rival, President Robert Mugabe, the former Zimbabwean trade union leader’s car was involved in a crash south of the Zimbabwean capital of Harare. Susan Tsvangirai, his wife of more than 30 years and a mother of six, was traveling in the car with the Zimbabwean prime minister.
Speaking to reporters outside the hospital, MDC Secretary-General and Finance Minister Tendai Biti said Tsvangirai’s condition was “stable”. Zimbabwean state television reported that Tsvangirai had sustained head and neck injuries.
A Zimbabwean police spokesman told state television the crash occurred when a truck “encroached into the lane of the prime minister's car, resulting in a side-swipe which resulted in the prime minister's car, a 4-by-4 Toyota Landcruiser, rolling over three times.”
Tsvangirai was airlifted to a Harare hospital, where Mugabe and his wife visited the injured Zimbabwean prime minister. Mugabe refused to answer reporters’ questions on his way out of the hospital.
On his way home to celebrate his birthday
Reporting from Cape Town, South Africa, FRANCE 24’s Alex Duval Smith said Tsvangirai had been on his way to his rural home near Beatrice for the weekend when the crash occurred.
The Zimbabwean leader was set to celebrate his 57th birthday - which falls on March 10 - at home, according to Duval Smith.
Tsvangirai’s driver and an aide who were also traveling with him sustained injuries during the collision, according to MDC officials.
The Zimbabwean prime minister was not traveling in an official motorcade, according to local reports.
‘Really, really, really devastating’
News of the death of Mrs. Tsvangirai - who was viewed as a “mother to Zimbabwe” by her husband’s supporters - shocked party officials and aides across the world.
“The news is really, really, really devastating,” said a noticeably shaken Jameson Mashakada, MDC vice president in UK and Ireland, during an interview with FRANCE 24 shortly after the news was released. “It is very, very, very unfortunate and really shocking.”
Friday’s incident brought a tragic end to an important week for Tsvangirai. On Wednesday, in his maiden speech to parliament, Tsvangirai addressed the issue of reviving Zimbabwe’s shattered economy and condemned the ongoing persecution of political activists.
His speech came as Roy Bennett, a senior MDC official and Tsvangirai’s pick for junior agriculture minister, remained behind bars following his controversial arrest.
An unassuming woman who once said that, if she became Zimbabwe’s First Lady, she would serve tea from an earthernware teapot rather than a china tea set, Mrs. Tsvangirai stayed out of the political limelight.
Reporting from Cape Town, South Africa, FRANCE 24’s Haydé Fitzpatrick said that Mrs. Tsvangirai, who was a qualified nurse, was a valuable source of information for reporters when the media was unable to reach her husband during his frequent arrests and court proceedings.
Friends and aides close to the couple say she was an indomitable source of strength for her husband during his long, difficult years as a trade union leader and a representative of the people.
Reporting from South Africa, Duval-Smith said the loss would be devastating for a man who represents Zimbabwe’s hopes for democracy. “It’s been 10 years of attempting to bring democracy to Zimbabwe,” said Duval-Smith. “Now that he has finally got the prime ministership, he’s going to have to draw on strength, I don’t know from where, but he has to draw on his strength to carry on the battle to bring democracy to Zimbabwe - and the battle isn’t over yet."