Zimbabweans expressed sorrow and shock late Friday at the death of Susan Tsvangirai, wife of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, in a highway crash in which Mr. Tsvangirai was injured, some voicing the suspicion that the collision between the car in which the Tsvangirais were traveling and a tractor-trailer combination might not have been an accident.
There was no immediate statement from Mr. Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change party on the crash and party officials said there were no plans to issue one.
Sources within the party who declined to speak on the record expressed suspicions about the incident in which the articulated truck swerved from the oncoming lane into the three-car convoy in which the Tsvangirais were traveling, clipping their middle vehicle.
Elections Director Dennis Murira of Mr. Tsvangirai's MDC formation gave an account of the crash to reporter Ntungamili Nkomo of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe.
Differences between Mr. Tsvangirai and President Robert Mugabe over the detention of MDC officials among issues have sharpened just three weeks after the formation of the national unity government formed as a solution to the country's post-election crisis.
Hard-liners in Mr. Mugabe's long-ruling ZANU-PF party are believed to have opposed the formation of the unity government and to be intent upon bringing it down.
Spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena of the Zimbabwe Republic Police, an assistant commissioner, said the crash occurred around 5 p.m. on the highway from Harare to Masvingo.
Bvudzijena confirmed that a truck headed for Harare veered into the lane in which the prime minister's vehicle was traveling and sideswiped the Toyota Land Cruiser. According to Bvudzijena and others the vehicle rolled over three times before coming to rest.
Murira said Susan Tsvangirai was declared dead on arrival at a hospital in Beatrice, south of Harare. He said Tsvangirai sustained only minor scratches and bruises.
But, said Murira, "the devastating news is that he has lost his beloved wife, a woman who was of immense significance to the party, a woman who on several occasions managed to comfort a number of us who were victims of this struggle."
Mr. Tsvangirai was traveling to Buhera, Manicaland province, where he had planned to spend the night and attend a party meeting Saturday at the Murambinda Business Center.
A statement issued by the MDC formation led by Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara said the party was "shocked and deeply sorry" at Susan Tsvangirai's death, describing her as a "wonderful, warm, down-to-earth mother of the nation."
Earnest Mudzengi, director of the National Constitutional Assembly, told reporter Patience Rusere of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the death of Susan Tsvangirai, 50, was "painful and shocking" coming so soon after Tsvangirai's swearing in as prime minister.
He said he had known Susan Tsvangirai since 2000, one year after the formation of the MDC, and said she was extremely supportive to her husband in his years leading the opposition, especially when he was arrested and badly beaten by police in March 2007.
Mudzengi said he would not venture to say whether the crash was anything other than an accident, but "many people who I have talked to, their first question would be was this not a politically motivated accident" in light of tensions within the unity government.
Ordinary Zimbabweans mourned the death of Susan Tsvangirai.
A Kadoma resident who gave his name only as George said he learned of her death through a text message and said he hopes she will be recognized as a national heroine.
Tawanda Maurise of Mutare said he heard of Mrs. Tsvangirai's death on VOA's Studio 7 and expressed the hope that the fatal crash will not derail the unity government.