Tuesday, 30 November, 2021
HomeBreaking NewsTembisa 10: Claims of gigantic conspiracy by SA’s doctors, nurses and hospitals

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

A large portion of South Africa’s medical sector — doctors, nurses, hospital support staff and both private- and State-sector institutions — engaged in a conspiracy to conceal the birth by a Gauteng woman of a world-record 10 infants, according to claims made at a press briefing by the executive chair of Independent Media, Dr Iqbal Survé, reports MedicalBrief.

Allegations of baby trafficking for muti and stem cell research, missing Nigerian doctors with false names, a cover-up by Gauteng Health, and the gagging of medical teams, were some of the allegations made at the Wednesday briefing, led by Survé. Also on the panel panel were obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Mpho Pooe, and Advocate Michael Donen, who had been commissioned by Independent to investigate the matter.

Survé said that state hospitals were  the epicentre of human trafficking and baby trafficking, and alleged that the Department of Home Affairs was also involved. “Our investigation uncovered horrific stories of baby trafficking and that babies are trafficked from Gauteng to Mpumalanga, West Africa, Europe and the United States,” he said.

Survé claimed that 50% of the trafficked babies were used for muti, cosmetic surgery and stem cell harvesting, while 50% were trafficked. No evidence was produced during the briefing to substantiate any of the claims, although Survé said the media house would publish a series of videos to reveal more details.

Donen told the briefing that Independent Media had committed “reckless” ethical breaches. Piet Rampedi, the Pretoria News editor who wrote the story, had failed to do due diligence in his reporting, had violated the company’s code, and the story was “misleading”. He recommended that disciplinary proceedings be instituted against Rampedi. 

“Mr Rampedi published the story to say 10 babies were born, without any corroboration. It was reckless because the only evidence was what the alleged father [Mr Tsotetsi] said to him. According to journalistic standards, that was reckless,” Donen said. 

At the time of publication by MedicalBrief, Independent Media’s website reflected none of Donen’s critical findings against the company and its editor.

Within hours of the briefing, the Gauteng Provincial Government stated that it had instructed the State Attorney to take legal action against Independent Media over its “serious allegations made against nurses, doctors, hospital management and health officials”. Provincial spokesperson Vuyo Mhaga said a senior counsel had been briefed, and court papers would be served on Independent Media in due course.

“The provincial government cannot stand by while serious allegations are made against nurses, doctors, hospital management and health officials. These are women and men of integrity, who are working selflessly and honestly every day to save lives and, at times, even risking their own lives,” Mhaga said.

The national Department of Health department backed the move, saying it was outraged by the “damning and unsubstantiated” allegations. “We join the Gauteng Provincial Government in challenging anyone that believes that they have any shred of evidence pointing to unethical practice by any of our health care workers to lodge a formal complaint with the relevant public institutions such as the Office of Health Ombud, Public Protector, or to open a criminal case with the law enforcement agencies for investigation and prosecution,” said DOH spokesperson Foster Mohale.

In response, Survé said Independent Media had been continuously threatened with legal action by the government should it continue going forth with the story. “We ignored all of them. We invited them to summons us,” he said.

“To government I say, it is okay to make mistakes. It is not okay to cover it up. Put systems in place to prevent human and baby trafficking. Suspend the Gauteng MEC of health and social development, those hospital CEOs. Look into the health department. We cannot be the epicentre for human and baby trafficking.”

Backstory

A previously reported by MedicalBrief, the controversy stems from an “exclusive” story written by Independent’s editor, Rampedi, claiming that that Gosiame Sithole, from Tembisa, east of Johannesburg, had given birth to a world record-breaking 10 infants.

Media scepticism was aroused when, despite the national and international interest in the story, no babies could be produced to confirm the story. Nor did any of the hospitals or institutions implicated in the Independent’s have any record of Sithole’s admission and births. Sithole was later admitted for mental observation.

The  “father” later announced, that he did not believe his girlfriend, Sithole, had ever given birth to 10 babies. A statement released by his family said he had not seen the decuplets, and had only ever relied on Sithole to inform him of their births. Shortly after the birth of the babies, the Pretoria News reported that she was also the mother of six-year-old twins, but later reports said no one knew where they were.

Responding to the reports, the DoH said at the time that it noted “with dismay and great disappointment” the claims by Independent Media, particularly those against the Steve Biko Academic Hospital.

“We have taken these allegations made against government and healthcare professionals very seriously. The results of our preliminary investigation once again confirmed that there were no decuplets in the Steve Biko Academic Hospital, as well that there was no way that Tshwane District Hospital, that is not even capacitated to deliver twins, can deliver 10 babies.”

Gauteng Provincial Government said in a statement, at the time, that it had conducted a thorough check with all hospitals in the province to establish the veracity or otherwise of reports. “None of the hospitals in the province, public and private, had any records of such births at their facilities.”

“Social workers attached to the Gauteng Department of Social Development made contact with Ms Sithole to establish her whereabouts to determine how the department could provide any assistance and care for her and her children. The social workers became concerned with Ms Sithole's state of health and arranged for her admission at Tembisa Hospital for observation.

“Ms Sithole was admitted to Tembisa hospital on 18 June 2021, and various medical tests were conducted on her to determine her state of health. Initially, she was meant to be kept at the hospital for 72 hours, which lapsed on Tuesday, 22 June 2021. Upon completing their preliminary examination on Monday, 21 June 2021, her doctors recommended that she be kept at the hospital for a further 7 days for further observation, in accordance with the Mental Healthcare Act.

“It has now been established by medical practitioners that Ms Sithole did not give birth to any babies in recent times. It has also been established that she was not pregnant in recent times.

“The Gauteng Provincial Government is deeply concerned by the conduct of the Independent Media, particularly the Editor of the Pretoria News, Mr Piet Rampedi. The Provincial government has instructed the State Attorney to institute legal action against Mr Rampedi and the Independent Group.”

It has since transpired, from Survé, that no legal proceedings were instituted against Independent.

Independent Media’s briefing on Wednesday

Survé said that Independent Media’s investigation by Donen showed that Sithole had been admitted to Steve Biko Academic Hospital in Pretoria where she “was diagnosed with pregnancy for six babies”. However, “when she went to Netcare Sunninghill private hospital, the doctors saw eight babies”.

According to sources at Tembisa Hospital, she gave birth to 10 babies but two of them died. Eight babies were transported to Steve Biko Hospital after she gave birth and Sithole saw the babies for two days after which she was told that they had to be transported to George Mukhari Hospital due to medical complications.

Pooe confirmed that Sithole had been pregnant and had undergone “a recent Caesarean section” and said she had seen, and was in possession of, a letter from an unnamed doctor referring to Sithole’s high-risk multiple pregnancy and motivating for Sithole to be booked off work.

The panel alleged that doctors and nurses in the private and public sectors were “unequivocally complicit” in the delivery and subsequent cover-up of the birth of the babies; that there had been “gross medical negligence” in that not enough doctors were present for these multiple births, with only four doctors in attendance; that there were no incubators available at the time; and that there had been a misdiagnosis during Sitholeʼs surgery.

There were also accusations that physical and electronic records of the pregnancy and the previous medical history of Sithole had been removed.

Survé said that the decuplets “were lost at the hand of a Nigerian doctor named ‘Roberto’, who was assisting the mother at the hospital”. He said some of the medical staff who were present at the delivery of the babies had to sign a non-disclosure agreement and were unable to say anything. He added that the Nigerian doctor “was using a different name, which makes it difficult for anyone to find him”. Some of the doctors involved had “fled the country”.

“Nurses who attended to this case were forced to sign non-disclosure agreements and should they talk they were threatened to have their licences revoked,” Survé said. A nurse who took pictures of the babies allegedly had her phone smashed.

Survé also quoted the lead doctor who denied having a hand in the delivery: “Look, I was not responsible for the delivery. I was called in to clean up the mess, a mess other doctors made.”

Findings of Advocate Michael Donen

Donen told journalists there had been “several disturbing contradictions and concerns”, suggesting human trafficking was involved in the saga. Because of this, Independent Media had launched a detailed investigation – including the deployment of deep-cover operatives – to uncover a syndicate of human traffickers central to whom are several obstetricians and gynaecologists, operating in the private sector and using state hospitals, like Steve Biko, Lenmed Zamokuhle Private Hospital, Tembisa and Dr George Mukhari, to further their aims.

Donen said alarm bells rang when Sithole was denied access to her attorney, after being admitted for mental observation, as well as the absence of an independent medical examination by an appropriately qualified independent medical practitioner, or by an independent psychiatrist.

According to his investigation, Sitholeʼs detention and the invoking of the Mental Healthcare Act breached procedure and ethics by the various Departments of Health, social workers and medical personnel concerned. Donen and Pooe concurred that one of these was the fact that no collateral history was provided by the people close to her, such as relatives, neighbours, or people she lived with.

Survé  told the briefing that Sithole was allegedly told by staff at the psychiatric hospital  that if she continued stating she was pregnant or continued speaking about her babies, she would “remain in the facility forever”.

Donen said it was puzzling that the Department of Social Development said a doctor had evaluated Sithole and said she was not pregnant. He said the conduct of a social worker, only named as MM, was questionable when she facilitated the detention. He said the social worker was the same person assisting Sithole after she delivered triplets in 2018.

The triplets have since disappeared and Donen said the social worker had failed to tell the father of the triplets about their whereabouts or give records on where they were taken. Donen said this was an “extraordinary situation and all sorts of conclusions could be drawn on why the baby or babies could not be found”.

Findings of Dr Dr Mpho Pooe

Addressing the press conference, Pooe, a practising obstetrician and gynaecologist, said that she had consulted and examined Sithole and her findings were “a sad moment for us as women in this country”.

The media had criticised Sithole, labelled her a liar, “even took pictures with a washing basket in her tummy, saying Sithole pretended to be pregnant… That is very painful as a woman. It is something that should never happen to anyone.”

Pooe said that during consultations with Sithole, she found that Sithole had been pregnant four times, had 16 children, and was “super/hyper ovulated”.

“I found a history of twins, triplets, single and decuplets,” she told the media.

Pooe said that from her consultations, observation of small details would convey whether the person being examined is being truthful. Sithole “carried herself well, dressed appropriately and had good eye contact”. Her speech was “coherent.

“On January 14, at seven weeks, at Sunninghill Hospital she [Sithole] was told about babies in her tubes. That would be referred to as an ectopic pregnancy and is regarded as an emergency as the patient or woman might bleed to death.

“On January 18, she was told they take the babies from the tubes and back into the womb. Medically impossible. You can Google it and you will see that is not possible.

“The following day, she was discharged and told all went well, all the babies were inside the womb. They were fine,” Pooe said.

Pooe said Sithole was attending three different places, and upon following up, all dates correlated with dates on the hospital books.

Sithole has developed hypertension, which Pooe said could be due to the multiple pregnancy or post delivery due to all the stressors she went through.Her records show she never had hypertension during the pregnancy, it came later. She also developed insomnia.

The doctor said she checked Sithole’s abdomen and the scar (of the C-section) was found and it had to be determined that it was  less than six months old.

“She was definitely pregnant. She delivered by C-section. We cannot say it never happened. Delivery did occur. Because I am the second or third opinion, I wanted the medical records from the previous doctor/hospital who was attending to her and this became tedious.

“It became life threatening for me. It was quite hectic where at some stage I had to change cars and use friends' cars, or hire a car to get all those files and information. And yes, we managed to get all those legal information,” Pooe said.

Role of Pretoria News editor

Although none of Independent Media make any mention of Donen’s negative findings in its coverage of the briefing, Donen had recommended that the company institute disciplinary action against editor Rampedi for the “reckless” publication of a story that breached journalistic ethics and the company’s own code.

Following the widespread criticism of the story, Rampedi had in an email apologised to his Independent Media colleagues: “Even though I stand by the fact that Sithole was pregnant, some aspects of the story could have been dealt with differently. Could I have handled the story much better? Definitely! Especially the verification process. Quite honestly, I never treated the decuplets story as an investigation at all. I used no investigative tool or checklist,” read the email.

On Wednesday, however, Survé defended Rampedi. He said that the story on the babies was a “feel good” article and “not an investigative report”.

Lenmed denial of involvement

Lenmed Group said in a statement on Wednesday that Sithole had not given birth to decuplets at any of its facilities in June. “In fact, the hospital group has no record of Ms Sithole giving birth at any of our facilities.”

Protocols stipulated that in the case of multiple births, the attending obstetricians would inform the hospital well in advance of the number of expected neonates, to ensure there were sufficient ventilators and oscillators available.

“Multiple births are an extraordinary event and our attending obstetricians inform the hospital well in advance of the number of expected neonates, as the delivery can be expected any time after the 24th week of pregnancy, depending on the number of babies expected,” said Dr Nilesh Patel, group chief medical officer at Lenmed.

The group said thorough planning would be required to ensure enough neonatal nurses were present to help stabilise and ventilate the babies if required. In an instance of the delivery of decuplets, 10 NICU nurses and 10 paediatricians would have had to be on hand to take care of the highly vulnerable newborns.

“An exercise of this nature would generally require the services of an academic hospital which has the necessary resources to deliver multiple neonates. Had one of our patients at Zamokuhle Private Hospital in Thembisa been expecting more than two neonates, Zamokuhle would have instituted alternative arrangements,” said Patel.

Lenmed CEO Amil Devchand said no hospital in the group had ever delivered more than triplets. “We have detailed, secure and verified records of all births at our facilities. No-one by that name [Gosiame Sithole] has given birth, nor have there been any multiple births at the hospital during that time.”

He dismissed allegations of baby smuggling and child trafficking concerning “Ms Sithole”.

“These baseless allegations have been thoroughly investigated and have unequivocally been found to be false rumour-mongering and an attempt by some to peddle fabricated information,” said the group.

“Lenmed would like to assure all our patients, the communities in which we operate and our broader stakeholders that patient care and safety is our priority. No newborn baby may leave any of our hospitals without compliance with strict protocols that are verified by our staff. Furthermore, we operate within a highly regulated and ethics-driven field of practice and we will always remain true to those governing protocols,” said Devchand.

Netcare denial of involvement

Netcare issued a statement that no patient with a multiple pregnancy of eight or more foetuses had ever been admitted at any of its hospitals, including Netcare Sunninghill Hospital.

“In addition to double-checking hospital records, management has verified with all the independent gynaecologists and obstetricians practising at the facility that none of their practices have consulted a patient or done a scan showing a multiple pregnancy of eight or more foetuses,” said Jacques du Plessis, managing director of Netcare’s Hospital division.

Media reaction

Daily Maverick’s Rebecca Davis writes in a scathing analysis that “in the 2½ hours of Survé’s onanistic tea party, during which he was flanked by two experts who had been paid to investigate the matter, the audience was presented with just one fact. Namely, that Dr Mpho Pooe had seen that Sithole had a Caesarean scar”.

“That suggests that Gosiame Sithole gave birth at some point in the past. That is it, as far as empirical proof of the original story goes.

“Human rights lawyer, Advocate Michael Donen SC, who was the other external investigator on the matter, said that he personally felt sure Sithole had been pregnant because lots of people told him so, and also there were ‘pictures’ of her looking pregnant.”

There was also the “small matter”, wrote Davis, that the Pretoria News printed on its front page an appeal to readers to donate money to Sithole and the decuplets. “Survé would not be drawn on what became of this money, because he said it was demeaning to Sithole.”

News24 writes that the briefing left the nation with more questions than answers and that “in the nearly three hours that Independent Media hosted the briefing, chairperson Iqbal Survé made wide-ranging accusations and assertions, but provided little to no evidence”.

It catalogues a number of instances:

  • A doctor, who used a pseudonym, was Gosiame Sithole's attending doctor. Survé said: “This lead Nigerian doctor is at the centre of this birth and hundreds of other similar births in Gauteng.” Survé provided no evidence but said more information would be revealed in the series. What do we know: Nothing. Since Survé did not reveal at least one of the two names there is nothing to use as a basis to verify the existence of a two-named Nigerian doctor at this stage.
  • Survé claimed Sithole was induced at Steve Biko Academic Hospital in what he described as a “comedy of errors”. The babies were then moved to Lenmed Zamokuhle Private Hospital before they were moved to Tembisa Hospital again and back to Steve Biko. Survé provided no evidence for this. What do we know: It would be extremely difficult to hide a birth of this nature. The LenMed group dismissed the claims, as did the Gauteng government, which said they would be suing the media group.
  • Another claim Survé did not substantiate was that during her pregnancy, Sithole went for check-ups at Netcare Sunninghill and Life Carstenhof in addition to public facilities. What we know: Netcare Sunninghill Hospital says no one who had a multiple pregnancy of eight or more foetuses has ever been admitted to any of its hospitals, including Netcare Sunninghill Hospital.
  • Dr Mpho Pooe, an independent obstetrician and gynaecologist, was tasked with examining Sithole after her release from Weskoppies Psychiatric Hospital and said Sithole had an ectopic pregnancy. “She was told that the two babies were sitting in the tube, which would refer to an ectopic pregnancy. That would be an emergency.” What the science shows: Dr Chantal Stewart, head of foetal medicine at the University of Cape Town, said: “I suppose it's possible to have an ectopic pregnancy and multiple pregnancy. I have never seen it or read it in journals.”

The South African National Editors’ Forum (SANEF) on Friday, (29 October) issued a statement noting the findings made by Advocate Michael Donen that Pretoria News editor, Piet Rampedi, was reckless when he published an article stating as fact that a woman had given birth to ten babies without any evidence, and calling for Donen’s full report to be made public.

It reads in full:

Donen investigated whether Rampedi followed due diligence when preparing the story on the alleged birth of decuplets for publication and any ethical breaches in the reporting of the story by other Independent Media staff. Rampedi reported at the time that the woman had given birth to decuplets, breaking the Guinness World Record.

Donen found that at the time of publication there was no evidence the woman had given birth to ten babies. It must be noted this report has not been made public, and we call on it to be made accessible to everyone for perusal.

“Due to the fact that the birth of decuplets is unknown in human history, I concluded that to publish a story saying the decuplets were born and that the Guinness book of world record was broken without corroboration was reckless. The only evidence that existed at the time was a report that had been made by the alleged father and he had said that his wife had told him that she gave birth to decuplets. I regard that according to journalistic standards as reckless and that would be so regardless of whether the current inquiry proves that,” Donen said.

Independent Media launched the investigation after SANEF called for an independent inquiry. SANEF will always stand for ethical journalism and the practising of credible journalism across newsrooms.

The news story was a clear case of a gross lapse of ethical journalism that has done untold damage to the profession at a time we are rebuilding the trust relationship with the public.
The cardinal principle in journalism is to get the facts right the first time by ensuring that all information is corroborated by more than one source. When the information cannot be corroborated, we owe it to our audiences to be transparent and inform them accordingly.
SANEF again calls on Independent Media to rejoin the Press Council of SA, so that it can abide by the industry-wide rules. The Press Council allows for all media houses to be held accountable when they act in breach of the Press Code and fail to practise ethical journalism.

It also allows for those aggrieved to be able to complain before an independent panel. We hope Independent Media will also use this moment to reflect on the treatment of the story and ensure that all subsequent stories are backed up by real evidence and sources. We hope that they will also review their internal systems to ensure all stories are checked before publication.

SANEF has noted subsequent claims made by Independent Media without evidence. They make serious allegations of a “cover up” involving politicians, medical professionals, and hospitals. We hope the promised ten-part documentary will see them abide by world accepted journalistic standards to provide evidence to all allegations.

As an organisation – charged with the responsibility to champion media freedom and promote ethical journalism – we have confined our comments to the part of the report that deals with journalism and do not in any way vouch for other unverified claims made, during the release of the report.

 

IOL article – Report confirms Tembisa 10 mom was pregnant, had recent Caesarean section (Open access)

 

IOL article – Exclusive: Gauteng woman gives birth to 10 children, breaks Guinness World Record (Open access)

 

News24 article – There are no babies, admits father of ‘Tembisa 10’ (Open access)

 

TimesLIVE article – Independent Media’s decuplets report finds ‘two of the 10 babies died on delivery’ (Open access)

 

Daily Maverick article – The myth of the Tembisa decuplets rises again (Open access)

 

News24 article – Fact Check: What really happened to the Tembisa 10? (Open access)

 

See more from MedicalBrief archives:

 

Woman claimed to be mom of 10 goes to court over psychiatric hospitalisation

 

Decuplets a 'journalistic error', says health department

 

 

Join the Medical Brief community

We'd appeciate as much information as possible, however only an email address is required.