Nation Mourns Humble Woman

Zimbabweans across political divide grieve for much-loved Susan Tsvangirai

Nation Mourns Humble Woman

Zimbabweans across political divide grieve for much-loved Susan Tsvangirai

Wednesday, 11 March, 2009
The death of Susan Tsvangirai, wife of Zimbabwe's new prime minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, in a motor accident on March 6, has thrown the country into a state of mourning.

The accident occurred on the Harare-Masvingo highway when a truck belonging to the United States development agency, USAID, crossed into the wrong lane, hitting vehicle carrying the prime minister and his wife, who was 50 years old. The couple were on their way to Buhera, the premier’s rural home, south of the capital.

The Zimbabwean driver of the truck, who was contracted by USAID to transport anti-retroviral drugs to rural Zimbabwe, appeared in court on March 9 on charges of culpable homicide. He has been released on bail.

Morgan Tsvangirai, who was treated for neck and head injuries immediately after the accident, was flown to neighbouring Botswana on March 7 for further checks but returned home for his wife's funeral, which will take place on March 11 in Buhera.

After lying in state at a funeral parlour in Harare Susan Tsvangirai’s body left the city on March 10 – her husband’s 57th birthday – to an emotional send-off from thousands of her compatriots, who lined up in the hot sun to pay their respects.

The prime minister, dark glasses covering a black eye and facial lacerations, lay flowers beneath a large photograph of his wife at a memorial ceremony at the Glamis Arena on the outskirts of Harare's city centre.

The Tsvangirai’s six children, all of whom live outside the country, returned for their mother's burial.

Thousands from around the capital thronged the arena to honour Susan, who, simple, humble and devoted to her husband of 31 years, was an inspiration to many.

Earlier, crowds of mourners had flocked to Mass at the Methodist Church in Mabelreign where Tsvangirai had worshipped in the 1990s when he was still a trade union leader. President Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace, along with several senior government and party officials, attended the ceremony to pay their last respects to the premier’s wife.

In a statement, the Zimbabwe government responded to the tragedy with “deep sorrow and a great sense of loss”, while Mugabe said, “This is a tragedy that has befallen our nation at a moment of great hope and expectation flowing from the formation of the inclusive government of which Mr Tsvangirai is Prime Minister."

Susan Tsvangirai largely avoided the limelight, though she spoke out on women's rights and on HIV/AIDS. A deeply religious woman, she provided her husband with vital support, bringing food to him during his periods of imprisonment and nursing him back to health after he was assaulted by police.

Parliamentary business may be suspended during the mourning period, with Lovemore Moyo, the speaker of parliament, being urged to adjourn proceedings until further notice and Mugabe postponing for two days a cabinet meeting scheduled for March 10 to give ministers time to mourn.

"It’s a tragic ending to a wonderful life of love," said public works minister Theresa Makone, a close friend. Describing Susan Tsvangira as a "loving, caring, kind, sincere, generous and Christian wife and mother”, Makone, who is also the Movement for Democratic Change’s Women's Assembly chairperson, said she had been privileged to have known her.

When the news of Susan Tsvangirai's death began to circulate on the afternoon March 6 there was widespread suspicion of foul play. The government rapidly released a statement countering the suspicions and emphasising the fact that the vehicle involved belonged to USAID.

The prime minister also moved to quell the simmering speculation in an address to mourners at his Strathaven home.

"When something happens," he said, "there is always speculation, but I want to say in this case, if there was any foul play, it was one in a thousand. It was an accident and unfortunately it took her life."

Despite Tsvangirai’s statement, MDC secretary general Tendai Biti insisted that the party would not suspend an independent investigation into how the accident occurred.

The crisis-torn country has a history of suspicious accidents involving controversial politicians. A case in point is the recent death of ZANU-PF’s political commissar, Elliot Manyika, in December when a tyre on his luxury car burst, causing the vehicle to roll several times.

The Zimbabwean police do not have adequate forensic facilities to investigate suspicious incidents such freak accidents.

In the wake of the tragedy, Biti said the MDC regretted that the premier was allowed to travel without a police escort, which might have averted the fatal accident, an opinion shared by Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara.

Chipo Sithole is the pseudonym of an IWPR journalist in Zimbabwe.
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