Fact-Check: No evidence for viral claim of toes for cash in Zimbabwe

In the last few days, it has emerged on social media platforms in Ghana that Zimbabweans are selling their toes for huge sums of dollars. According to the viral claims, people are engaging in the sale of human body parts because of hardship and high cost of living in the country.

The information, which is apparently spreading wide on various social media platforms across Africa also suggests it is the business of a Zimbabwean millionaire. He offers $40,000 or a brand-new car in exchange for the toe, the viral messages claim.

Other news portals that republished the viral claims suggested that the toes were being collected for money rituals by a cult.

Monitoring the messages making rounds on social media without any credible source, Fact-Check Ghana decided to verify.

The team followed news media reports in Zimbabwe, social media posts and as well interviewed some experienced journalists and editors in Zimbabwe about the issue.

Social media rumours and frenzy

According to news reports in Zimbabwe that Fact-Check Ghana has been monitoring, the issue of people trading their toes for cash has been trending in the country.

“Frenzied reports these past few days have emerged on social media, of pictures being shared of people selling their toes,” Bulawayo 24, an online news portal, reported.

The portal also reported that the claims were circulating on WhatsApp, Twitter, and Facebook and suggested people offered their big toe for US$ 40,000, the middle toe for US$ 25,000, and the tiny toe for US$ 10,000.

“Memes and jokes have been spread across social media, with people laughing at pictures of some who have reportedly sold their toes for varying amounts of money,” the news portal added.

Indeed Fact-Check Ghana sighted a number of the posts, photos, and videos of people making jokes and creating fun out of the rumours. Some of the content creators posed as beneficiaries of the toe trade.

No credible news report on the matter

While the rumours about the Zimbabweans selling their toes for money have been rife, there has not been news report by any credible media outlet providing evidence of someone who has, indeed, traded their toe for money.

However, a local tabloid, H-Metro, carried the news on the front page of its May 31, 2022 edition titled “Dealer confirms toe trade”. The story which is also published on its online platform quoted one David Kaseke, a trader at Ximex, an abandoned mall in Harare, the Zimbabwean capital.

A local tabloid, H-Metro, carried the news on its front page

In the report, David claimed he was the dealer for the toe traders who were based in Harare. The paper did not provide any further evidence but said it was investigating further.

We haven’t seen the people selling their toes – Zimbabwe journalists

Fact-Check Ghana further enquired from some journalists and editors in Zimbabwe about the veracity of the toe trade. All the journalists who spoke with the team said they were mere rumours without any evidence.

“It’s just one of those social media rumours that nobody has proved [sic] at all. We like those rumours around here,” Ranga Mbery, an online news editor and communications specialist, told Fact-Check Ghana in a chat.

“Nothing. Nobody has interviewed or met anyone with any missing toes. Everyone claims to have “heard”,” Ranga responded when asked if he had seen anyone who had traded their toe for money.

Chamu Murava, a journalist and media liaison officer of the Zimbabwe Anti Corruption Commission, confirmed it had been trending on social media.

“I can’t confirm whether it’s true or false because I have not encountered a real-life story about it,” he said.

“While the country is facing economic challenges, this issue has been circulating but it seems like fake media posts.  It’s trending on social media but we have not really seen the people that sold their toes for money,” Veneranda Langa, an awarding-winning journalist working with the NewsDay and the Standard in Zimbabwe, explained to Fact-Check Ghana.

Police promise to investigate

On June 1, 2022, Zimbabwean police said it had begun investigating the matter. Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyath, the police spokesperson, said the police was monitoring the issue.

“Police are conducting investigations and we shall issue a comprehensive report in due course. The public must do things according to the laws of the country, especially when it comes to human body parts,” he said.

“The laws of the country are very clear when it comes to the issue of health and body parts, in terms of movement. The selling of human body parts in the country is illegal, whether people are advertising, soliciting, offering; in terms of the country’s law as espoused by the Criminal Law and Codification and Reform Act, Chapter 9:23, is very clear,” Asst. Commissioner Nyath added.

It’s a hoax – Deputy Minister of Information

Zimbabwe’s Deputy Minister of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services, Kindness Paradza, has said the stories are not true, adding that the government has made its own investigations.

Kindness Paradza, Deputy Minister of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Service, said the claims are not true | credit: mazw.org.zw

“As Government, we made some investigations into this issue and we assessed the status of the matter. There’s nothing like that. It’s an act of social media peddlers who are trying to tarnish our country,” he explained.

“They are tarnishing the image of our citizens, who are working hard to earn a living, assuming they are trading their toes to prosper”.

Supposed dealer of toe trade faces charges in court

Yesterday, June 7, David Kasege, the Ximex trader and supposed dealer of the toe trade who granted interview to H-Metro, was presented to a magistrate court in Harare.

According to media reports, the state alleged in its charge sheet that David Kasege “indicated that he was drunk and joking” when he granted the interview to H-Metro.

The State argued in court that his prank had “materially interfered with the comfort, convenience, peace of the public as he had wantonly and mischievously raised [a] false alarm to the public”.

David has been released on bail of Z$8,000 (US$24.84) and will appear in court on Friday, June 10.

From the above, it’s clear there’s no evidence supporting the viral claim of Zimbabweans trading their toes for cash.

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