Zimbabwe can be a hard country to live in even for its resilient citizens who have had to endure a lot over the years. One favourite pastime is to invent stories and myths involving people paying large sums of money in exchange for bizarre items. We had the story of quail birds a couple of years ago and a lot of people were duped into farming them without proper market research, then there was the issue of coins and old money, rumours of people buying old charcoal irons and now we have people claiming to be buying and selling toes. It is a captivating fable but one thing it is not is true.

If you somehow do not know what I am talking about rumour has it that the illegal foreign currency traders that operate around George Silundika and Angwa Street have sold their toes to unknown traditional dealers in exchange for large sums of money. Numbers vary but according to some wild estimates these healers pay as much as US$10 000 for the little toe. That is not even the strangest part. According to legends doing rounds around town, the toes are not cut off with a sharp object-that would be too straightforward. Instead, the witch doctors use a snake to “suck off” your toe if you agree to the ritual.

It is just a legend

The kind way to describe this rumour is to call it a fable. The blunt way to describe it is to call it fake news. That is because it is what it is. The videos and rounds are nothing but fabrications. The BBC has confirmed this to be the case but we are also aware of the fact that some of these sources have a reputation for making things up on their platforms. No one has come forward with irrefutable proof that there is a cult buying toes. All we have are rumours and no tangible proof of people who were poor who have suddenly come into money. No corroboration whatsoever. Instead, we are told off by statements such as the fact that initiates and those who sell their toes have to hide this fact.

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What we do have are scammers and the does fable is a twist to the classic monkey scam. If you have never heard of it here is how it works:

  • A stranger goes into a certain town where monkeys are relatively plentiful and tells whoever cares to listen that they will be paying US$100 per monkey delivered to them
  • To make people this he actually pays people this much when they deliver monkeys
  • After a while monkeys are hard to find and he ups the price to US200
  • People keep bringing monkeys which are then placed in a cage at the edge of the forest guarded by people hired by people paid by the monkey buyer
  • Once monkeys run out he ups the price to US$500 and then leaves promising to come back
  • Those guarding the monkeys make a pact, they will sell the monkeys in the cages to willing villagers for US$300 each
  • Villagers buy all the monkeys and wait for the owner to return but then they realise that the monkey guards, who were accomplices have fled during the night. All that is left is a makeshift cage. They have all their monkeys and are US$100 poorer because they paid a stranger US$100 to get their monkeys back.

Scammers love to latch on to such legends as people are desperate. Scammers would sell their irons to people for a “discount” so those who bought could eventually sell to the merchants looking for these irons. They omitted to mention the fact that they were the ones that created the legend of the mysterious iron buyers. A lot of scammers also profited from selling overpriced quail eggs and chicks to unsuspecting members of the public. Sometimes these rumours have fatal consequences. years ago there were rumoured to be buying human heads to use as bait in order to catch fish with gold in their bellies. Some people actually lost their heads. In fact, these rumours make a regular comeback.

Already we have scammers claiming to be in contact with the mysterious witch doctors. They are telling anyone who wants to listen that there is a US$200 finders fee payable in advance. So if you want to sell your toe to these people you have to pay US$200 which is non-refundable. Alarm bells should be ringing here. This all sounds like a scam because it is almost certainly is. It’s just that people are desperate and sometimes that makes people gullible and willing to entertain even the most of fables.