Toes-for-cash? No, there is nothing afoot in Zimbabwe


The claims, sparked by a video circulating online, were that some people were buying toes in Zimbabwe to be used by magicians in neighbouring South Africa.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

To bring you this story, we tiptoed into the world of disinformation and fake news and we can now report that something is afoot in Zimbabwe.

This is all about the toes-for-cash business claimed to have been happening in the southern Africa country. The claims, sparked by a video circulating online, were that some people were buying toes in Zimbabwe to be used by magicians in neighbouring South Africa. The person in the video said he had sold his baby toe and bought a pick-up from the proceeds.

The model seemed exciting: you go to a dealer, he or she cuts off your toe, pays you, and you limp all the way to the bank. You lose a digit; you earn multiple-digits in cash. Quite a toe-curling trade but the figures floated around made the story spread faster than an athlete’s foot fungus.

Apparently, a toe goes for between $30,000 and $40,000 each (Sh3.5m to Sh4.7m). Kenyans, in their usual style of toeing the line when the chance comes to have a good laugh, have been excited about this, sharing jokes and dreaming of sudden riches.

“I hear that in Zimbabwe, children are singing, ‘Head shoulder, knees and dough (money),’” Varity Fricker posted on Twitter.

Dantex Kemmy posted in a group for a Kisii radio station’s fans: “I’m heading to Zimbabwe but I don’t know if toes for the Gusii people are allowed because of the way they hit against stones.”

“Mama Gals and I are just from Zimbabwe,” artist Bob Odhiambo posted on Thursday. “Jamaica, here we come for a vacation.”

Shishi Silla tweeted a photo of sleek cars on Thursday with a caption: “Few hours after going to Zimbabwe. We will get a new body in heaven.”

Brian Omondo posed: “I hear there is a TOEnado in Zimbabwe.”

But, as the saying goes, blood will out. Fact-checkers have debunked the news of the trade as a hoax. Among them is the BBC’s Disinformation Unit.

“(The unit) reviewed two videos said to be of people who had sold their toes or were in the process of selling their toes and believes they were staged,” it said in an article on Thursday.

The BBC identified the source of this to a Zimbabwean blog, which cheekily claimed that the trade was happening at a mall in Harare. “The Gambakwe blog, published on May 28, said the ‘trade in toes’ was happening at Harare’s Ximex Mall,” reported the BBC.

We enquired about the trade on a WhatsApp group for journalists from all over the continent. Veteran Zimbabwean journalist Brezhnev Malava replied that it was a joke that started in his country and grew legs in Nigeria as Kenyans and the rest of Africa landed on it with both feet.

“These boys on the streets of Harare are fond of banter. It helps numb the painful blows of a lousy Zimbabwean existence. People in Harare spend more time on jokes than discussing serious political issues that can make a material difference in their lives,” the journalist said.

“Needless to say, we still have our toes here. However, we have launched a new ClipToeCurrency. I know a friend who has managed to buy a toe truck using this new moolah,” he joked.