Cape Town – Zimbabwean pastor Evan Mawarire, who recently organised a nationwide strike against the government, has described as "very unfortunate" remarks by President Robert Mugabe that he (Mawarire) was "not part of us" and should leave Zimbabwe.
Mugabe, 92, reportedly said this while speaking at the burial of the former British colony's first black secretary to the Cabinet and president, Charles Utete, in Harare on Tuesday.
The veteran leader mentioned the 39-year-old pastor publicly by name for the first time, and accused him of inciting violence and questioned his religious credentials.
Mugabe also accused Western countries of sponsoring the recent anti-government protests and urged Mawarire and his followers to relocate to one of them.
"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... If they don't like to live with us, let them go to those who are sponsoring them, to the countries of those who are sponsoring them, fine," Mugabe was quoted as saying on Tuesday.
'I'm not being violent'
But Mawarire told News24 on Wednesday that Mugabe's remarks were unfortunate.
"I think those are very unfortunate remarks for the head of state to make towards a citizen who has not committed a crime and who exercised his constitutional right to ask the government to attend to issues.
"I am not being violent... neither have I incited violence. There is no record, there is no shred of evidence that I have done anything wrong," Mawarire said.
Mawarire, who was the founder of the #Thisflag campaign, said he had in fact anticipated a tactful approach to the current situation in the country.
"The natural response from a head of state would have been to call for dialogue or to call for an inquiry. So for me as citizen, his remarks are very unfortunate," Mawarire said.
Mawarire was last week briefly arrested and charged with subverting a constitutionally elected government, before being freed by a court in the capital, Harare.
Hundreds of cheering supporters greeted his release.
Mawarire vowed to continue with with his mission, saying the way forward remained the same, urging Zimbabwean citizens to become "bolder".
"When we started out, our goal was to create a platform where citizens cannot be afraid, can be bold to speak up and to stand up for their nation. That continues to be the way forward.
"#Thisflag is not the only movement. There are many other effective movements that have risen up in this time and I think that Zimbabweans are finding their voices through these movements and it's helping us at this point," said Mawarire.
He said that since the country was heading towards elections, the movements offered Zimbabweans a chance to stick together.
"We are heading towards elections and this is a chance for us as citizens to galvanise our efforts and exercise our constitutional rights in the way that we feel we should," he said.