8. March 2009

Tsvangirai flies to Botswana - Fears for Zimbabwe PM's safety as MDC raises questions over car crash

Botswana president Ian Khama last night sent his private jet to take Morgan Tsvangirai to Botswana, after earlier expressing fears for the safety of the Zimbabwe prime minister. The help from Tsvangirai's strongest regional ally comes after the MDC leader's wife, Susan, was killed and he was injured in a car crash near Harare on Friday afternoon. Khama reportedly fears for Tsvangirai's safety and some MDC officials have raised questions about the circumstances of the collision about 60km south of Harare between an oncoming seven-ton truck and the 4x4 vehicle in which Tsvangirai was travelling. The MDC leader had been on his way to Buhera to address a rally. Tsvangirai was discharged from Harare's Avenues Clinic yesterday after being visited by several relatives and top aides in his party and receiving calls from world leaders.

He described the crash to President Robert Mugabe, who visited him at the clinic on Friday evening, sources said. The MDC has launched its own investigation into the crash, amid rampant speculation of foul play, fuelled by a long history of opposition Zimbabwean politicians dying in car crashes. Questions are being asked about the driver of the truck and about why the prime minister had no official police escort to warn off other traffic. MDC officials in Harare have cautioned that people should not jump to conclusions about matters, but a statement issued by the party in Johannesburg suggested the accident was a planned attack on Tsvangirai aimed at destabilising the new unity government. "The truth of the matter is that this is not a genuine accident," said party spokesman Sibanengi Dube. "This is a perfect, organised hit which was designed to eliminate the president of the MDC," Dube said.

A senior Zanu PF official said Mugabe also wanted to get to the bottom of the matter "because he knows that there are elements within his party who can do anything to sabotage the unity government". Mugabe is said to be relieved that the Western diplomatic sources said yesterday they originally suspected foul play, but then came round to the view that it was probably a genuine accident. "But it is early days yet" one official said. Tsvangirai himself believes it was an accident, a senior MDC official said, although some of his aides did not. The collision happened at about 4pm when the oncoming truck veered into the wrong lane - possibly because the driver fell asleep or because he swerved to avoid a pothole - and hit the side of Tsvangirai's vehicle, after missing others ahead in the convoy.

The 4X4 rolled several times and Susan Tsvangirai, who was sitting behind the driver on the right, was critically injured and died soon after in a nearby hospital. The driver was badly injured while Tsvangirai, sitting in the back on the left, and an assistant sitting in the front passenger seat, were less badly injured. Initial suspicions seem to have been allayed by reports that the truck was owned by USAid, the official aid agency of the US government which is sympathetic to Tsvangirai. However, Sharon Hudson-Dean, the spokeswoman for the US embassy in Pretoria, said yesterday that although the truck had been bought with USAid funds, it was owned and operated by an independent contractor. It was earlier reported that the driver had been arrested by police, but this could not be confirmed. MDC sources said a photographer who arrived on the scene first and took pictures had also been arrested by the police.

It is understood that there was panic within Mugabe's Zanu PF on hearing news of the crash, which prompted Mugabe, Vice-President Joice Mujuru and the director general of the Central Intelligence Organisation Happyton Bonyongwe to visit Tsvangirai in hospital. "President Mugabe wants to get to the bottom of the matter because he knows that there are elements within his party who can do anything to sabotage the unity government," said a Zanu PF official. "He was concerned because the blame would obviously be placed in his office whether the state was involved or not." "It's a difficult time for Tsvangirai because certain quarters in the party are saying he was an assassination target, but the prime minister himself feels it was a genuine accident," said an MDC aide. President Kgalema Motlanthe conveyed the condolences of the government and of the Southern African Development Community, which he chairs, to Tsvangirai and his family. (Cape Argus)

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