You’ve probably heard the story going around: Zimbabweans are selling their toes for large amounts of money! It’s a tongue-in-cheek post that’s been making the rounds on social media, and it’s been making some people laugh. But it’s also been taken seriously in other places in Africa.
The Zimbabwean government has warned people not to fall for a viral hoax that is spreading on social media. The story suggests Zimbabweans are parting with their toes in order to beat poverty.
The unfounded story that suggests Zimbabweans are parting with their digits to beat poverty is trending in Nigeria. A tongue-in-cheek Zimbabwean blog post suggested the trade was happening at a shopping center in the capital, Harare. It quotes WhatsApp messages with figures as high as $40,000 (£31,800) being offered by traditional healers in South Africa for a big toe.
It is not uncommon for body parts to be used in unscrupulous traditional so-called cures. Touted by charlatans or fake healers, they are associated with witchcraft – and are condemned by respected traditional healers, known as “sangomas” in southern Africa. But correspondents say the amounts involved – $40,000 for a big toe, $25,000 for a middle toe, and $10,000 for a little one – are laughable and most people regard it as so.
Toe memes and jokes are circulating in Zimbabwe, often posted with the hashtag #Chigunwe, which means “toes” in the local Shona language, bringing light relief in hard economic times.
The internet is a funny place, and one of its particularities is that things can get blown up out of proportion in a very short amount of time. That’s what happened with the “trade-in toes” story.
For a few days, the story of Zimbabwe selling toes for money in order to buy food was all over the internet. But it turns out that the story was just a joke. The trade-in toes aren’t real—at least not yet.
According to one blogger, who posted about the trade on 28 May, some people have been trading their toes for money—or at least asking others if they would be willing to do so—but it’s all been done as a joke.
The blogger wrote that “the traders are laughing and joking” with each other over their supposed new business venture. They say they’re going to start promoting it as soon as possible.