- By Chiagozie Nwonwu
- BBC News, Lagos
An apparent joke on social media in Zimbabwe that people are selling their toes for large sums of money is being taken more seriously elsewhere in Africa.
The baseless story that suggests Zimbabweans are parting their toes to overcome poverty is trending in Nigeria.
A tongue-in-cheek Zimbabwean blog post suggests the trade is taking place at a mall in the capital, Harare.
To read especially on BBC Africa:
He cites WhatsApp messages reporting amounts of up to $40,000 (over 24 million FCFA) offered by traditional healers in South Africa for a big toe.
It is not uncommon for body parts to be used in unscrupulous so-called traditional cures. Presented by charlatans or fake healers, they are associated with witchcraft and are condemned by respected traditional healers, called “sangomas” in South Africa.
But according to correspondents, the amounts involved – $40,000 for a big toe, $25,000 (over FCFA 15 million) for a medium toe and $10,000 (over FCFA 6 million) for a small toe – are laughable. and most people consider them as such.
Memes and toe jokes are circulating in Zimbabwe, often accompanied by the hashtag #Chigunwe, which means “toes” in the local Shona language, bringing mild relief in these difficult economic times.
But none of Zimbabwe’s more serious newspapers picked up the story and some people on Twitter complained that the hilarity sparked by the joke was a distraction from the more critical issues facing the country.
The Gambakwe blog, published on May 28, reported that the “toe trade” was taking place at the Ximex mall in Harare.
A few days after the blog, Zimbabwean tabloid H-Metro published an interview with black market traders in the mall, who said the whole affair had blown out of proportion after a few of them shared as a joke.
But they have since reported that some people have come to Ximex to inquire about the trade after hearing “the rumours”.
Twitterers from several African countries, including Nigeria and Uganda, began posting that Zimbabweans had started selling their toes for thousands of dollars. A Kenyan radio station also tweeted this information, acknowledging it was an unconfirmed report, but asking its listeners what body part they would be willing to sell.
Nigerian tweet from @InnocentZikky, which has been retweeted 2,668 times and garnered 4,731 likes in 18 hours, includes pictures of feet with missing toes.
The BBC’s Disinformation Unit has reviewed two videos purporting to show people who had sold their toes or were in the process of doing so and believe they are staged.
But these social media trends sometimes have real-world implications because they can be believed and replicated.
The story struck a chord in Nigeria in particular, where there is an upsurge in money rituals – a belief that the use of body parts can bring wealth.
In January this year, three people were arrested in Nigeria for allegedly killing a teenage girl for ritual purposes.
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