Beware the men of the cloth, BBC and Eyewitness News

Pastor Evan Mawarire is a charlatan, is not part of (the Zimbabweans) and he should go and live with his sponsors in foreign lands. With these words President Robert Mugabe today for the first time ravaged the Baptist Church cleric by name, and warned against fake church leaders.

The president was speaking during the state funeral of Dr Charles Utete, the former secretary to the cabinet in Harare. He said that not all churchmen were true teachers of the Bible and accused Mawarire of inciting violence through his #ThisFlag multi-media campaign.

“You can’t urge people to adopt violence, violent demonstrations as the way of life or a way of solving grievances, no. We will say no, forever no,” Mugabe said, to cheers from the crowds at the funeral.

“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,” the president said.

“The Mawarires, if they don’t like to live with us, let them go to those who are sponsoring them, to the countries that are sponsoring them,” Mugabe added.

Mawarire left the country last week but has denied reports he fled to seek asylum elsewhere.

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President Mugabe’s government has previously accused French and American ambassadors in Harare of supporting Mawarire’s #ThisFlag movement. The diplomats have denied the accusations.

Mawarire, who is currently in South Africa, says his protests are peaceful and are against government corruption, alleged police brutality, delays in paying state workers’ salaries and cash shortages.

President Mugabe’s government is struggling to pay workers and officials were yesterday expected to meet civil service union leaders, where it was expected to agree dates for July salaries. The government last week failed to pay the army.

To reiterate his point, the 92-year-old president said he was not sure which God such charlatans served.

“I don’t know whether they are serving God… we spell God double G.O.D, they spell God in reverse,” he said.

Mr Mawarire has struck a chord with many Zimbabweans through his campaign, organised via Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp.

Its success is not surprising given the mood of despair and anger over alleged government corruption, the chronic shortage of money and the heavy police presence on streets, he says.

He was arrested last week, but released when a court threw out the charges. His lawyers successfully argued that the charge of subversion, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years, had been added at the last minute, denying him a fair trial.

Mawarire was first charged with inciting public violence despite the fact that he has called on Zimbabweans to take a peaceful stand against unemployment and corruption and avoided directly criticising the president.

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