HARARE Mar 10 – Hundreds of mourners on Tuesday packed a Harare church for a funeral service for Premier Morgan Tsvangirai’s wife, who died in a car crash that has cast a shadow over Zimbabwe’s unity government.,
The crowd spilled out the Methodist church in Harare, with President Robert Mugabe and a raft of senior officials from both the ZANU-PF and Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
An inter-denominational choir sang dirges as the hearse arrived and Tsvangirai, dressed in black, entered the church.
The church service was to be followed by a larger public memorial at a Harare stadium, the same venue where just four weeks ago Tsvangirai was cheered as the new prime minister in the unity government.
The crash and Susan Tsvangirai’s death have overshadowed the new government’s work to rebuild an economy devastated by world-record hyperinflation with more than half the population dependent on foreign food aid for survival.
A US-British aid truck carrying AIDS drugs slammed into the Tsvangirais’ 4×4 on Friday on a potholed highway outside Harare.
She died instantly and Tsvangirai suffered minor injuries. He was briefly hospitalised in Harare and flew over the weekend for further medical checks in Botswana, but quickly returned home to prepare the funeral.
Tsvangirai has sought to dispel fears the accident could have been linked to a long history of deadly political trickery in Zimbabwe, ruling out any foul play in her death.
"It was an accident and unfortunately it took her life," he told mourners gathered at his home Monday.
"I want to thank God for giving me 31 years with my wife," he said. "Life will go on, and I am certain she would have liked life to go on."
Her body would be taken to the couple’s Harare home later on Tuesday, before burial on Wednesday morning in their hometown Buhera, his party said.
Susan Tsvangirai, 50, generally avoided the political spotlight.
She founded a charity to teach women about AIDS, which has expanded to provide other health and social services in a nation where health care has collapsed.
The MDC is conducting its own investigation into the crash, but has not alleged foul play. Doubts about the incident eased after Washington and London said the truck was owned by a joint US-British aid project that delivers HIV/AIDS drugs.
London has denied that the driver fell asleep at the wheel or had been drinking and said the crash a "genuine accident."
Still, the accident has overshadowed pressing concerns challenging the new government.
One of Tsvangirai’s top aides, Roy Bennett, was arrested on February 13 as the cabinet was being sworn in on weapons charges. A judge has granted him bail, but he remains in prison as prosecutors wage a series of appeals.
The Supreme Court was hearing arguments over his bail as the church service was getting underway.
The International Monetary Fund has also dispatched a team to Zimbabwe, the first since December 2006, when the southern African country only narrowly avoided expulsion from the organisation.
But the global lender has indicated that it could be willing to work with the new government, and Tsvangirai has said that restoring ties with the IMF are a priority for his government.
Economic Planning Minister Elton Mangoma said in the state-run Herald newspaper that his talks with the IMF have been "positive."
"They have told us that they are willing to immediately assist us," he said in the paper.