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Rumors that people in Zimbabwe are selling their toes for cash started as an online joke, but were taken seriously by many.
The country’s deputy information minister visited a mall where the sales were allegedly happening and declared the claims false.
Would you cut off your big toe for a new Range Rover?
That’s what some people may be asking after false claims of an illicit toe trade happening in Zimbabwe spread widely on social media across Africa.
"In Zimbabwe, people have started selling their toes for thousands of dollars due to (the) high cost of living," reads a May 31 Facebook post. The toes can bring in $20,000 to $40,000 "depending on size," it said.
The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)
According to news reports from the BBC and Agence France-Presse, as well as multiple fact-checks, the claims that have gone viral apparently started as a joke, and a Zimbabwe government official denounced them as an attempt to harm the country’s image.
It’s not clear where the claims began, but AFP fact-checkers tied it to a May 30 tweet that said big toes were going for $40,000. A BBC report said the "apparent ruse" began with a "tongue-in-cheek" blog post saying the sales were going down at the Ximex Mall in Harare, the country’s capital city.
Claims spread widely across Africa on social media, including a video showing a man supposedly getting his big toe cut off in exchange for a Range Rover. The video cuts away before the man’s toe is cut.
Another video features a man showing off a new vehicle he got in exchange for his toe, but it’s not clear from the video if he’s missing any digits. The South African news site News 24 reported that it was this video, filmed as a joke, that started the rumors.
But the claims were being taken seriously enough that Kindness Paradza, the deputy information minister in Zimbabwe, visited the mall in Harare where the sales were alleged to be happening.
He’s quoted in multiple news reports denying that the claims are real. According to The Herald, a Zimbabwe newspaper, Paradza said the claims are false and are "social media reports aimed at tarnishing the image of the country." The Herald, as well as AFP, also talked to vendors at the mall who denied people were buying and selling toes there.
We reached out to Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Media, Information and Broadcasting Services, but have not gotten a response.
A Facebook post claims that people in Zimbabwe are selling toes for money, up to $40,000, depending on their size.
The claims appear to have started as a joke, according to multiple news reports and fact checks. The country’s deputy information minister said they are not true after visiting a mall to investigate. We can find no evidence showing this is really happening, so we rate this claim False.
Nation, Kenya edition, "Toes-for-cash? No, there is nothing afoot in Zimbabwe," June 5, 2022
BBC, "Zimbabwe toe-selling 'joke' misses the mark in Nigeria," June 2, 2022
Africa Check, "No evidence Zimbabweans are selling their toes because of poverty," June 3, 2022
Agence France-Presse via the South China Morning Post, "Zimbabwe vendors battle rumours of human toe-trafficking for witchcraft purposes," June 5, 2022
The Herald, "Toes for sale: Govt dismisses story," June 2, 2022
News24, "Human toes trade in Zimbabwe a hoax, but prosecution for importing sex toys is not," June 2, 2022
Browse.Ng, "FACT CHECK: ARE ZIMBABWEANS REALLY SELLING THEIR TOES FOR $40,000? (ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW)," June 2, 2022
AFP fact check, "Zimbabwe’s informal vendors battle toe-trafficking hoax," June 7, 2022
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