On April 19, 2016, following a cash shortage and the subsequent economic collapse of Zimbabwe, evangelical pastor Evan Mawarire released a video of himself wrapped in the national flag. He lamented each color’s defiled symbolism and then attributed alternative meanings to them. The video went viral in Zimbabwe, a nation that has been ruled by 92-year-old Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party since its independence in 1980.
Much to Mawarire’s surprise, #ThisFlag erupted into a mass movement, galvanizing not only activists and preexisting movements but also everyday citizens. Threatened by Mawarire’s skyrocketing influence, the Mugabe regime pushed him into exile. When the “protest pastor” returned to Harare on Feb. 1, he was detained at the airport and charged with subverting a constitutionally elected government, which could result in a 20-year sentence. After another court appearance on Friday, he spoke to me about the spontaneous eruption of the #ThisFlag movement, its structure and the political climate in his homeland.