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Tembisa 10 'births' 'unsubstantiated', Public Protector finds

The “Tembisa 10” decuplets never existed, and the sensational media claims, as well as allegations by the supposed father of the babies, were “unsubstantiated”, the Public Protector’s office said in a report released in December, 18 months after the controversial story made headlines worldwide.

The Pretoria News had reported in June 2021 that Tembisa mother Gosiame Sithole had broken a world record by giving birth to 10 babies at Steve Biko Hospital.

However, the Daily Maverick reports that Acting Public Protector Kholeka Gcaleka said not only was the story fabricated and unsubstantiated, but so were other claims submitted by Sithole’s partner and supposed father of the babies, Tebogo Edward Tsotetsi.

Tsotetsi also alleged that:
• Sithole was refused access to see her decuplets;
• was wrongfully admitted to Tembisa Hospital for medical observation after the “birth”; and
• her medical information was wrongfully shared with the Gauteng Provincial Government and the media (which confirmed she was never pregnant).

The Daily Maverick says of note in the Public Prosecutor’s report is that out of all affidavits, reports and letters from doctors, government officials and witnesses involved in the case, the reporter responsible for the original story, Piet Rampedi, was not interviewed.

A few weeks after the false news broke (7 June 2021), Tsotetsib filed a complaint to the Public Protector (22 June 2021), alleging maladministration and improper conduct by the Gauteng provincial government and Gauteng Departments of Health and Social Development as well as SAPS and Ekurhuleni Municipality.

In her report of the investigation of the claims, Gcaleka confirmed that the claim that the babies were born and the mother was denied access to them was “unsubstantiated”.

A few weeks after Sithole claimed to have given birth to decuplets, she was involuntarily admitted to Tembisa Hospital, and put under medical observation.

Then on 23 June 2021, the Gauteng provincial government issued a media statement saying a medical examination carried out at Tembisa Hospital found the woman had not given birth and not been pregnant “in recent times.”

Sithole’s partner, Tsotetsi, alleged that Tembisa Hospital officials acted improperly when involuntarily admitting Sithole for medical observation and wrongfully disclosed her medical records to the Gauteng provincial government without her consent.

The Public Protector found these claims “unsubstantiated,” as Sithole was admitted as “an involuntary mental healthcare user through the application of the mental healthcare practition”, and affidavits submitted by the head of psychiatry (Professor Kalaivani Naidu) and the regional director of Gauteng Department of Social Development (Dr Phumla Nkosi) confirmed they did not share her medical examinations with the media through the spokesperson of the Gauteng provincial government, as alleged.

“Instead… Tembisa Hospital received a request from the MEC’s office and Gauteng Health legal directorate to submit a medical report, which was communicated to the media and the public by the GPG through a statement, without providing in-depth detail,” the report stated, actions which do not contravene Section 33 of the Mental Health Care Act.

Tsotetsi also alleged that after obtaining the medical information from the hospital, the GPG unlawfully divulged Sithole’s files to the media and the public without her knowledge and consent.

Gcaleka found this claim “unsubstantiated,” because the GPG complied with the terms of the National Health Act in dealing with the confidential information of a health user.

Acting director-general in the Office of the Premier of Gauteng Mduduzi Mbada sent a letter to the Public Protector saying: “In 2021, myriad media articles were published by Independent Media and the Pretoria News about Ms Sithole giving birth to decuplets at Steve Biko Hospital… Independent Media and the Pretoria News stated this as a fact and not allegations.

“…the GPG conducted an internal investigation to test the veracity of these articles, most of which were continuously misleading ….”

He added: “Perpetual media articles created negative perceptions about the Gauteng health facilities and the GPG” and the GPG decided to set the record straight with an internal investigation, which revealed Sithole was never pregnant.

“The decision was then taken to prepare a media statement to alleviate possible doubts, fear and misconception about visiting health facilities and about GPG,” wrote Mbada.

A contentious issue related to this story is how a journalist published the article without checking the facts.

Independent Media’s internal ombudsman ruled that Rampedi’s decuplet story was a “hoax” that “failed to pass the basic principles of journalism” in July 2021, and an independent external investigation condemned his actions as “reckless” journalistic behaviour, saying his conduct was a “serious” violation of media ethics.

Independent Media’s boss, Dr Iqbal Surve, ignored his own ombudsman’s report.

Yet as a key piece of this story, Rampedi and Surve were not interviewed for this investigation, nor were any letters or affidavits from them mentioned in the report.

Among other claims, Tsotetsi also alleged that Sithole was unlawfully detained by SAPS after she was reported missing by his family, and that the Gauteng Department of Social Development acted improperly when removing her twin children for placement at a place of safety –  both were found “unsubstantiated”, the latter because Gcaleka found that Social Development removed Sithole’s children with her knowledge and request, which was approved by the Tembisa Children’s Court.

 

Daily Maverick article – Acting PP agrees Tembisa decuplets never existed – but still no scrutiny for Piet Rampedi and Iqbal Surve’s role (Open access)

 

See more from MedicalBrief archives:

 

‘Tembisa 10’ story axed from international media awards’ shortlist

 

Tembisa 10: Evidence remains absent, questions unanswered

 

Tembisa 10: HPCSA to investigate ‘obs/gynae misrepresentation’ by GP

 

Tembisa 10: Claims of gigantic conspiracy by SA’s doctors, nurses and hospitals

 

 

 

 

 

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