Johannesburg - The Tembisa 10 story is not fake news but a cover-up of mammoth proportions by Gauteng Health authorities, Independent Media said on Wednesday.
After initiating a private investigation into the birth of the 10 babies, the media organisation said it stood by the stories published in both print and online publications.
Last Tuesday, IOL broke the story written by Piet Rampedi of Gauteng mother Gosiame Thamara Sithole giving birth to a world record set of decuplets at a Pretoria hospital on Monday, June 7. This was followed on Wednesday with a lead story in Pretoria News, written by Rampedi, its editor.
The story reverberated across the world.
“Instead of being a cause for celebration however, it has resulted in an orchestrated campaign to discredit the story, the mother of the decuplets Ms Sithole, the Pretoria News’ editor, Piet Rampedi, as well as Independent Media and its chairperson, Dr Iqbal Survé, with claims that the story is ‘fake news’. It is not and we stand by our story,” Independent Media said on Wednesday.
The media organisation said Rampedi followed the story for many months after he was introduced to Sithole and her partner, Tebogo Tsotetsi in December 2020 by members of the church they all belonged to.
Rampedi developed a relationship with the couple who later shared the news of Sithole’s pregnancy with him, including information about their discussions with their doctor and that the scans showed they were expecting eight babies.
“Ms Sithole and Mr Tsotetsi asked Mr Rampedi to not publish news of the multiple pregnancy until the babies were born. This was due to religious and cultural reasons,” the statement read.
“Ms Sithole also informed Mr Rampedi that the doctors attending to her had requested that secrecy be maintained until the delivery. Mr Rampedi respectfully honoured their wishes.”
On June 7, Sithole was admitted to Steve Biko Academic Hospital and, in the evening, she delivered 10 babies – seven boys and three girls. It is our understanding that doctors, who had been expecting eight babies, were surprised by the delivery of 10.
She delivered five babies by natural birth and had to undergo a Caesarean section to deliver the other five.
Sithole shared the news with Tsotesi via text message, who shared it with Rampedi. The couple requested that the location of the birth not be disclosed – for various reasons.
Sithole told both her partner and Rampedi that they could not visit the hospital due to complications that arose from the surgery and Covid-19 restrictions.
“Following the news of the birth, Survé Philanthropies made a commitment of R1 million to support the couple and their babies, and Mr Rampedi arranged for the father to travel to Cape Town to thank Survé Philanthropies in person, for their donation.”
After IOL and Pretoria News stories, the Government Communication and Information Systems spokesperson, Phumla Williams, issued a statement saying that the government was unable to verify the births of the decuplets at any of its facilities.
The Gauteng MEC of Health repeated the statement on several platforms. However, other government departments – local and provincial – released contradictory statements confirming in some instances and denying in others that decuplets had been born in a Pretoria hospital.
Gauteng Provincial Government (GPG) Spokesperson, Thabo Masebe, also released a statement that the Gauteng government had no confirmation of the birth of the decuplets and that the babies could not be found at any hospital, public or private.
The GPG, the Department of Health, as well as the CEO of Steve Biko Academic Hospital have all made statements on various platforms that there was no evidence of Sithole having given birth at any private or public hospital nor could they find her or the babies.
The National Department of Social Development through its Minister Lindiwe Zulu and spokesperson Lumka Oliphant, however, confirmed that Sithole had indeed delivered the decuplets but they had not seen the babies as yet.
On Thursday, June 10, Tsotetsi’s family reportedly opened a missing persons case at a police station in South Tembisa.
Tsotetsi said his family could not locate Sithole and that he had not seen her despite constant contact with her via text messages. The Gauteng Social Development Department then released a statement saying the mother had been in contact and that she was not missing.
Sithole, in fact, confirmed to Tsotetsi that she was still at Steve Biko Academic Hospital.
On Tuesday, June 15, CEO of Steve Biko Academic Hospital, Dr Mathabo Mathebula told a local radio station that Sithole showed up at the hospital for the first time on June 12, claiming that she had delivered her babies at Louis Pasteur and that she was there to see her babies who had been transferred to Steve Biko Academic Hospital.
Dr Mathebula also implied in her statement that Sithole needed psychiatric help.
Dr Mathebula subsequently repeated her statement that Sithole had never been to Steve Biko Academic Hospital and that she had not delivered her babies there.
The Gauteng government and the CEO of Steve Biko Hospital intimated that the story of the decuplets birth was a hoax, that news of such births was false and that she, Ms Sithole needed psychiatric help.
After this confusing turn of events, Independent Media said it then initiated a private investigation into the matter which established the following:
1. Gosiame Thamara Sithole was admitted to Steve Biko Academic Hospital on Monday, June 7, 2021.
2. She was admitted late in the morning and taken to the maternity ward.
3. At 6pm or thereabouts, a group of four doctors and two nurses attended to Sithole.
4. Sithole gave birth to five babies via vaginal delivery. Doctors then proceeded to do a Caesarian section and delivered the remaining five babies.
5. Independent Media can confirm that Sithole was at Steve Biko Academic Hospital from June 7 until Friday June 11.
6. Independent Media can confirm that Sithole was transferred to the lodgers’ section on Thursday. She was not provided with food except for bread and tea in the mornings. She was provided with no medical or psychological assistance.
“This information is corroborated by several independent sources, including staff at Steve Biko Academic Hospital,” the media organisation said.
Independent Media said it would present all evidence and records to law enforcement officials if requested to do so.
“Considering our findings, Independent Media calls for an urgent investigation into the actions and statements of the CEO of Steve Biko Academic Hospital Dr Mathebula; the Gauteng Provincial government, and the Gauteng Health MEC, Dr Nomathemba Mokgethi with respect to the birth of the decuplets.
“We would like answers from Dr Mathebula, Gauteng Premier Mr David Makhura and Ms Mokgethi to the following questions:
1. Did they know that Gosiame Thamara Sithole was admitted at Steve Biko Academic Hospital on 7 June 2021 and had given birth that evening?
2. Do they have details of the operational set-up for the delivery, and can they share the names of the specialists and doctors who attended to the birth?
3. Can they share details of what extraordinary measures would have been taken to ensure the safety of the mother and the multiple babies?
4. Can they share information about the whereabouts of the doctors who attended the birth?
5. Why did they not disclose that the births did in fact take place at Steve Biko Academic Hospital?
6. What is their response to allegations from staff at Steve Biko Academic Hospital that they were threatened into not revealing any information about the births?
7. What is their response to allegations that the hospital was wholly unprepared for this unprecedented birth?
8. Can they confirm the number of doctors, neonatal staff, paediatricians, that attended the birth to take care of the health of the mother as well as the decuplets?
9. Can they respond to information we have that there were not enough functional incubators at the time of the birth?
10. Can they let us know where the babies are and their state of health?”
Independent Media said it was beyond shocked at the treatment meted out to Sithole.
“She was given no food, no support, no post-natal medical care, and no counselling after an unprecedented birth. Any birth can be difficult, but that of delivering 10 babies is exceptional and should have been suitably prepared for,” they said.
“Worse still, Ms Sithole was pressured by hospital authorities to say she was not at Steve Biko Hospital. Ms Sithole has suffered trauma and shock - physical and psychological - following her treatment at the hands of both hospital and government authorities.”
Independent Media said it calls for full disclosure around these matters and for the hospital to tell the public what has happened to the babies.
“We call on the National Government to take urgent action to determine if there was criminal conduct in covering up the botched clinical care of Ms Sithole and her babies, as it appears that Steve Biko Academic Hospital was not fully prepared for the births, and there is an increasing likelihood that there has been extreme medical negligence.
“We also call on the authorities to protect the mother, as well as our editor Piet Rampedi, who has also been threatened. We believe these threats are due to Mr Rampedi’s reporting on the Gauteng Department of Health, first with the Life Healthcare Esidimeni tragedy, which involved the deaths of 143 people and his subsequent exposure of the PPE scandal, which exposed corruption of billions of rands.
“Further, we are disappointed that other media have so willingly believed the statements issued by the above, without so much as interrogating the facts around the story. The conduct of the South African National Editors’ Forum (SANEF) in particular, shows complicity in what looks to be a major cover-up.
“Instead of looking out for the wellbeing of the mother and the decuplets, they have focused all their attention on discrediting Mr Rampedi and Independent Media. In so doing, they have unquestionably supported what appears to be a cover-up of mammoth proportions.
“We unwaveringly stand by Piet Rampedi and we stand by our story.
The organisation said they have also advised Sithole to get legal counselling and advice so that she can have answers to her questions from Steve Biko Academic Hospital and the Gauteng health authorities.
“The media has a role to play in protecting the vulnerable. We see a young mother, who has been through a traumatic, difficult birth of an unprecedented ten babies, being abused, threatened, and being given the run-around, to hide what looks like a major case of criminal medical negligence.
“The actions of the authorities in this case have embarrassed South Africa. What should have been a joyous moment for Ms Sithole and the entire country, is instead, a story of incompetence, negligence, abuse, and a cover-up.”
* This developing story will be updated with comments from the Gauteng provincial government and Steve Biko Academic Hospital.