Traders in Zimbabwe’s capital were forced to display their feet last week in an attempt to convince people that they are not involved in the trade of toes linked to witchcraft and economic desperation.
This Saturday was too cold in the midst of winter, but all week “we have been coming here with open shoes to prove the point that we don’t do witchcraft here,” Tafadzwa Murengwa, a representative of the traders told AFP at Ximex Mall.
For more than a week, the economically devasted country has been fighting off social media rumours that Ximex traders are trafficking toes.
Toes can be bought for $20,000 to $40,000 depending on the size, said a tweet on 30 May, blaming a government “incapable of creating jobs” for generating this desperate business.
It included photos of a foot primed with a pair of pliers ready to chop off the smallest toe, another foot missing the biggest toe and the last one appears to be in recovery, as it sits bandaged and propped in a flip flop, presumably missing the pinky toe.
Videos emerged to further corroborate the strange phalanges market; one shows a man getting his toe cut off as blood pools on the base of his sandal. The man can be heard asking for the keys to the Range Rover he was promised, in Shona, as payment for the toe.
Another video showed a man hobbling into a Toyota Hilux GD6 with a bandage covering his left toes as he mumbles on about not needing them anyway now that he has his car.
The veracity of the photos and videos could not be confirmed but that didnt stop people from visiting the mall traders to make enquiries.
“It’s a hoax, people were just fooling around on social media saying that people are dealing in “Zvigunwe” — toes in Shona — but you can’t pinpoint such, then it caught the eye of journalists who thought something was really going on,” Murengwa explained.
The claims stem from an old belief that a traditional healer could help you garner wide riches after you sacrificed your toe to them.
That morphed into a joke nicknamed the ‘cryptoe’ trade about people that drive fancy cars or live lavish lifestyles, must have sacrificed a toe in order to get it.
Zimbabwe’s The Herald newspaper this week found only one trader who admitted to being a toe agent, but he retracted his statement the next day: he was drunk and did not know he was being recorded.
Zimbabwe’s deputy minister of information, Kindness Paradza called the saga a hoax too after visiting Ximex Mall on Thursday.
“There is no such thing happening here, it’s just social media users looking for ways to tarnish the country’s reputation and tarnish the hard work of its people,” Paradza said to the country’s national broadcaster ZBC.
He said all the trader’s toes that he saw were intact and reiterated that publishing such damaging misinformation is an arrestable crime.
“The rumours don’t move us, if there was such, the way people are suffering wouldn’t we all be doing it. People who don’t believe hard work is possible always say that it must be witchcraft,” said Murengwa.