Zimbabwean pastor receives death threats after starting accidental protest movement

The life of a Zimbabwean pastor is in danger after he accidentally started a subversive protest movement.

Pastor Evan Mawarire suddenly lost his temper at the state of his country and recorded the rant at his desk in Harare. The clip with him wearing the nation's flag around his neck has sparked a nationwide trend around the hashtag #ThisFlag.

The 39-year-old church leader posted the four minute video on his Facebook and said he was "shocked" when thousands of people started to share it.

Now with hundreds of thousands of views, Mawarire's rant has caught the imagination of Zimbabwe's frustrated population.

Pastor Evan Mawarire posted the video of himself with a flag wrapped around his neck under the banner of #ThisFlag.Facebook / Evan Mawarire

"I'll be honest with you, the day it happened was a really tough day for me. I was thinking of ways I could get more money for school fees, or I could borrow money, but it just wasn't happening. I was packing to go home," Mawarire told the Daily Maverick.

"I had that moment where it just became clear, wait a second, this country has gone completely broken because people like me have stayed quiet," he said.

Mawarire said he did not plan his tirade and refuses to link it to any political party. He posted the video with the comment: "‪#‎ThisFlag. If I have crossed the line then I believe it was long overdue. I'm not a politician, I'm not an activist...just a citizen #ThisFlag."

He responded to the viral take off of his video by announcing five days of digital activism under the #ThisFlag trend. This was quickly extended to 25 days which will end on May 25, Africa Day.

The protest has even extended to the Zimbabwean parliament with several opposition politicians wearing the Zimbabwean flag around their neck, like Mawarire in the video.

Although the government's official line has been to mock the trend, Mawarire says he fears he will subject to extra-judicial attacks.

"I couldn't lie to you to say that I feel completely safe," he told the Daily Maverick. "I don't have enough resources to hire a security team or equipment. The only safety I have are my fellow citizens, the people who know me, the people around me.

"People have said that I could leave the country but I can't. This is home. Everything I have is here. I could leave but then what?"

Mawarire went on to say the fear of speaking out was part of the problem. "Because it's so dangerous we warn each other off speaking, we put the fear into each other. State security doesn't have to tell people not to talk, we do it for them. I'm not brave, I'm scared, but the bottom line is I've had enough and I can't do it any more," he said.

Mawarire spoke of an anonymous death threat he had received over the phone. "That was the darkest phone call I have ever received," he said. "I will never forget that. But I tried not to show fear."

He insists he does want violence or regime change. His was an accidental protest, he says. All he wanted to do was pay for his childrens' school fees.