Image: Morgan Tsvangirai
Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi  /  AP
Zimbabwe's Prime Minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, lies in a hospital bed in Harare, on Saturday, March 7.
updated 3/8/2009 9:19:01 PM ET 2009-03-09T01:19:01

Zimbabwe's prime minister said on Monday that there was "no foul play" involved in a car accident that killed his wife and injured him.

Morgan Tsvangirai addressed mourners gathered outside his home after returning to Zimbabwe's capital after receiving medical treatment in Botswana.

Zimbabwe's long history of political violence blamed on Mugabe's forces — including several assassination attempts on Tsvangirai — has fueled speculation Friday's car crash was not an accident.

But Tsvangirai told supporters "in this case I want to say there is no foul play. It was an accident."

The couple's four-wheel-drive vehicle collided with a truck carrying U.S. aid on the outskirts of the capital on a notoriously dangerous road.

Thousands of Zimbabweans have visited Tsvangirai's Harare home to offer their condolences. Plans are being made for a rally in his wife's honor on Tuesday and her funeral on Wednesday.

Flight to Botswana
Last year he spent months in Botswana, fearing for his life at the height of a standoff with President Robert Mugabe — the man with whom he formed a joint government last month.

Botswana President Seretse Ian Khama has been one of the few African leaders to openly criticize Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe since independence from Britain in 1980 and is accused of destroying its economy and trampling on democratic and human rights.

Tsvangirai's coalition government with Mugabe has been rocky from the start. Mugabe has treated Tsvangirai as a junior partner, declaring at Feb. 28 celebrations for his 85th birthday: "I am still in control and hold executive authority, so nothing much has changed."

Tsvangirai has two deputy prime ministers who, like him, are opposition leaders — Thokozani Khupe and Arthur Mutambara. In addition, Tsvangirai's No. 2 in his Movement for Democratic Change party, Tendai Biti, holds the key government post of finance minister. Biti, a sharp-tongued lawyer, has meetings in the coming week with an International Monetary Fund team to review Zimbabwe's financial prospects and discuss addressing its economic and humanitarian crises.

Key potential foreign donors such as the United States and Britain have been waiting to see how much power Tsvangirai will wield in the unity government before stepping in with major development help. Now, their wait is likely to be longer.

Tsvangirai was criticized for spending long periods out of the country last year, even when it became clear it was out of fear for his safety. This time, his decision to seek medical care in a country where he feels comfortable will be seen in the context of Zimbabwe's catastrophic hospital system.

Zimbabweans also may be willing to give him time to recover from the loss of his wife of 31 years. While Susan Tsvangirai did not play a prominent political role, she was by many accounts an important confidante and source of support for her husband.

The question, though, is how long Zimbabweans can be patient as they cope with the world's highest official inflation rate, a hunger crisis that has left most of its people dependent on foreign handouts and a cholera epidemic blamed on the collapse of a once-enviable health and sanitation system.

The government-run Sunday Mail quoted Nelson Chamisa, a spokesman for the prime minister's Movement for Democratic Change party, as saying the date of Tsvangirai's return "is going to be a function of the progress that is going to be made in the examination."

Tsvangirai's party calls for investigation
Zimbabwe's long history of political violence blamed on Mugabe's forces — including several assassination attempts on Tsvangirai — is fueling speculation Friday's car crash was not an accident.

A statement posted on the prime minister's Web site Saturday said that "although it is to soon to draw conclusions, available facts suggest it was an accident." But Tsvangirai's party has called for an investigation, and said the crash could have been avoided had Tsvangirai had the kind of motorcade that travels with Mugabe. Since becoming prime minister, Tsvangirai usually travels in a convoy of four or five cars with his own and government guards, while Mugabe travels with dozens of cars and motorcycles.

The coalition was formed after a dispute over presidential elections nearly a year ago and months of state-sponsored violence against MDC members and independent political activists.

Tsvangirai was headed to a weekend rally in his home region when his four-wheel-drive vehicle collided with a truck carrying U.S. aid on the outskirts of the capital on a notoriously dangerous road. State television said the truck swerved on an uneven stretch of the road, which, like many in Zimbabwe, is poorly maintained. Tsvangirai's spokesman said the car carrying the prime minister, his wife, a driver and a bodyguard sideswiped the truck and rolled at least three times.

Tsvangirai, who turns 57 Tuesday, formed the MDC a decade ago. As it emerged as a serious political challenger, Tsvangirai repeatedly faced the wrath of Mugabe's ZANU-PF party. He has been beaten and was once nearly thrown from a 10th floor window by suspected government thugs.

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