#ThisFlag Pastor Evan Mawarire: 'I am not abandoning Zimbabwe'

Evan Mawarire is lifted by followers after his release at Harare Magistrates court on July 13.Reuters

The pastor from Zimbabwe behind the #ThisFlag mass protest movement has said he will remain in South Africa for the foreseeable future after being publicly denounced by President Robert Mugabe.

Evan Mawarire has become a national hero but said he has to "rethink" his return to the country after Mugabe named him and questioned whether he is serving God.

A stay-at-home strike earlier this month was backed by Mawarire, who sparked the #ThisFlag social media movement which has become one of the biggest anti-government protests in years.

He was subsequently arrested and charged with subversion, but was released to the cheers of hundreds gathered at the court after his lawyers successfully argued that the accusation had been added at the last minute and so did not give him a fair trial.

The 92-year-old president said last week that people like Mawarire were unhappy with life in Zimbabwe they should move to "the countries of those of who are sponsoring them".

He went on: "A man of religion will speak the biblical truth. 1 Corinthians what does it say? Love one another...So beware these men of cloth, not all of them are true preachers of the Bible. I don't know whether they are serving God. They spell God in reverse."

Naming the pastor for the first time, Mugabe added: "The Mawarires and those who believe in that way of living in our country, well, they are not part of us in thinking. They are not part of us as we try to live together".

Speaking to City Press in South Africa at the weekend, Mawarire indicated that he will not be returning to Zimbabwe for the foreseeable future.

"It's important that people understand that I am not running away from Zimbabwe," he said. "I travel to South Africa regularly for my own personal and church business. But because of my arrest, there has actually been a disturbance. I have to rethink my return to Zimbabwe because of the current situation. I was denounced by Zimbabwe's government; yet, I am just one person who has raised his voice and spoken out. So, it is a tricky situation and something that I am still thinking about."

Mawarire defended his role in the protest and his work as a pastor.

"We are allowed constitutionally to challenge our government and raise our voices," he said. "As a pastor, the word of God holds me to challenge these injustices, particularly for the poor, for the widows and for the downtrodden."

He praised the "role that Zimbabwe's citizens played" to get him released, saying that this had "made them the real heroes".

Mawarire added: "I saw thousands of people waiting for me when I was released, and this just proved that this movement is here to stay...The citizens of Zimbabwe have shaken the government in terms of showing that we can see what is being done and we are demanding things to change. This movement is not housed in a building. It is an idea that is within Zimbabweans, and that is why people identify with it. For Zimbabweans, it's personal and not about following an individual. This is about a better Zimbabwe that lives in the hearts of us all."