South Africa

FACTS AND FICTION

The disappearing decuplets: deconstructing the fable of the 10 babies

(Photo: pnas.org/Wikipedia)

Sorry, South Africa, but the decuplets do not exist.

There are no decuplets. This sentence could become the Mzansi version of Ceci n’est pas une pipe (This is not a pipe), the famous Surrealist declaration under Rene Magritte’s painting of a pipe.

“There are no decuplets”: in our rendering, this slogan would be appended directly below the now-famous photograph of Gosiame Sithole looking like a python who just swallowed a Mini Cooper.

But seriously, guys, if I could have your attention for a minute, just some housekeeping: there are no decuplets.

This sucks, I fully acknowledge. But it must also be admitted that we, as a nation, went a teensy bit batshit crazy over the whole thing. For the amount of emotional energy collectively expended over these hypothetical newborns, one would think they had been sent directly from the Almighty to save our souls and mend the cracks in our power stations.

They never existed. The 10 tiny babies we yearned to see lined up next to each other in gender-matching bootees: they weren’t real. Mourn them at your leisure, but mourn them we must. They are as fake as Hitler’s diaries, as the Cottingley fairies, as the tokoloshe stealing your life force. They are as fake as QAnon and Pizzagate. They are as fake as Radical Economic Transformation and the New Dawn.

Some of us knew all along, of course. Some of us, blessed with extraordinary prophetic powers, foresaw that a Guinness World Record ratified exclusively by the dodgiest hack in South Africa might just turn out to be a load of kak. Like the mythological Cassandra, the price of our oracular gift was not to be believed. We have been denounced as enemies, racists, and representatives of the dreaded Mainstream Media.

It is important to understand that the Independent group, according to its most ardent admirers, is not part of Mainstream Media. This conjures up the charming image of Pretoria News editor Piet Rampedi and his boss Iqbal Survé toiling in their shirtsleeves, running some samizdat operation which circulates badly photocopied pages of a banned publication.

The reality, to be clear, is that the Independent group’s titles are the oldest and most established newspapers in the country: mainstream since the literal 19th century. The Pretoria News, the paper which hosted the decuplets scoop, was first printed in 1898. Coincidentally, 1898 is approximately the same year in which Survé would have had to be born to have been Nelson Mandela’s doctor, as he claims.

The fact that the Independent newspapers’ readership has plummeted in recent years does not make them less mainstream, in the same way that the fact that Matthew Perry now looks like a tik addict does not erase the reality that he once starred in Friends.

It is worth noting briefly, though, that one of the tsunami of lies Rampedi has told over the past week is to label the Pretoria News “the nation’s favourite newspaper”. According to the latest audited figures, the Pretoria News has a circulation of 1,700 copies: about the same as the newsletter of a large high school.

Let us turn to Rampedi himself, which is very much what he would want. The so-called “People’s Editor” has turned the saga of the imaginary babies into a lengthy advertisement for himself and his virtues as a journalist, even as every new twist of the tale reveals him to be either ethically bankrupt, a gibbering idiot, deeply mentally ill, or some combination of all of the above.

“SA, I am a credible and reliable journalist who has NEVER lied to you,” Rampedi posted on Wednesday night.

The old dating site axiom has it that the minute someone describes themselves as having a “good sense of humour”, you can be positive they do not. Similarly, the second a journalist pleads that they are “credible and reliable”, please understand that we are in Opposite Land.

Rampedi’s past boo-boos are the stuff of journalistic legend. There was the time he reported, at the ANC’s Mangaung electoral conference, that one Cyril Ramaphosa was dropping out of the running. That mistake was deemed so embarrassing that the Independent’s seasoned political editor ended up resigning – but not Piet!

There was also the time Rampedi and his colleagues reported that SARS was running a brothel. You must remember that one! It was part of a series of stories that ended up directly contributing to the gutting of South Africa’s tax body.    

Reporting on fake decuplets is a bit of a change of pace for Rampedi, who doesn’t usually dabble in such family-friendly fare. But the one thing you have to hand to him: he clearly has his finger on the pulse of the nation. We didn’t realise how much we needed those adorable decuplets until it became clear, roughly five minutes into this feverish saga, that they didn’t exist.

Those asking for photos of the babies were chastised for their cultural insensitivity. Those asking for details of the medical team who carried out a birthing procedure never previously performed with success in recorded world history were told that this, too, must be kept secret. Because… Piet said so. Sssshhhhhh!

Throughout this, it is notable how women have been shouted down. Women who have actually given birth and who found aspects of Rampedi’s story questionable were repeatedly silenced by men who apparently couldn’t pick a vaginal canal out of a police lineup. Women with intimate experience of pregnancy were rudely shushed by the likes of Rampedi himself, whose knowledge of human reproduction is so vast that he appeared to repeatedly confuse the terms “premature” and “stillborn” in his reporting.  

When government spokesperson Phumla Williams announced that she had been unable to trace the birth to any Gauteng facility, Rampedi employed a grotesquely gendered insult to accuse her of acting like an “entitled prima donna”.

And when Rampedi’s story began to crumble like an RDP house in the Free State, he responded by pushing the alleged mother further and further into the public spotlight to be abused by strangers while he retreated behind her.

A quick recap of where we’re up to at this point: the “father” has admitted, in a public statement, the “non-existence” of the decuplets. With its back lodged sweatily against the wall, Independent Media has alleged a “cover-up of mammoth proportions” and an “orchestrated campaign” to discredit Rampedi and Survé.

This is a technique straight out of the Trump playbook: when caught lying, simply tell bigger and bigger lies – until everyone vaguely rational exits the conversation to preserve their sanity, and the only ones left behind are the true believers.

“There are no decuplets”. This has now become a sentence that only South Africans will understand, with other unique local statements like: “It’s Stage 4 tonight”. One day soon we’ll look back and laugh. DM

Gallery

Comments - share your knowledge and experience

Please note you must be a Maverick Insider to comment. Sign up here or sign in if you are already an Insider.

Everybody has an opinion but not everyone has the knowledge and the experience to contribute meaningfully to a discussion. That’s what we want from our members. Help us learn with your expertise and insights on articles that we publish. We encourage different, respectful viewpoints to further our understanding of the world. View our comments policy here.

All Comments 26

  • I didn’t have to wait until someday soon to laugh, I laughed the whole time reading this piece. What a lekker way to start today! 😂🤣😂

  • I just love this clever, tongue-in-cheek journalism so many of you are so good at. DM is well worth supporting. You have all done so much for us in your whistleblowing. Thankyou.

  • WOW Rebecca. you’ve even surpassed your wonderful self! On a serious note, its a tragedy what Surve and his pals have done to Independent Newspapers …sorry can one still call them newspapers. Keep up the good work, Rebecca, and try not to lose your sense of humour.

  • Hilarious!! Superbly written !!ANC purposely keeps its followers illiterate so they cannot read or understand reputable publications like Daily Maverick

  • Im just surprised that you did not rename the Pretoria News to the “Pretoria Sun” or “Tshwane Daily Mail” in the article.

  • Thank for your incredibly witty piece Rebecca, choosing to laugh instead of cry is the way forward in South Africa these days else we may all commit tribal suicide. The most hilarious part was that photo, in their hunger for sustenance had the babies swallowed her breasts? Her truly impressive stomach started just below her neck, I found the crutches a nice touch however

  • This article is so funny and to the point and well researched that Ms Davis deserves to be appointed to run the Communications Ministry or the United Nations or something. Or at the very least, be given a large bag of swag.

  • Thanks for the article. Pity there were references that few South Africans will be able to relate to (surrealist declaration? cottingly fairies? mythological Cassandra? etc). I’d like to see journalism being more relevant to a broader audience than people who have been through a privileged educational system. You inevitably distance lots of people. Is this what you want for DM? Also, equating tokoloshes to historical cons seems out of line. Do you think you have no mythologies? Maybe people like Noah Harari can help you with this misconception.

  • Thanks for the funny article, but there is much more to this than one unscrupulous journalist. There are victims here and perpetrators. We have a wayward husband, unfaithful to his wife, unable to look after his own family, shamelessly gushing over bringing another 10 children into the world – with another woman!. We have the girlfriend, so called mother of the non existent decuplets, being held in psychiatric facility, and a crowd funding scheme for said non existent babies. There is a definite attempt at fraud here – I am not sure by who. But to claim to have a Guinness World record without supposing proof is required – is just plain stupid. This story has made international headlines, and just like the fake sign language interpreter at Nelson Mandela’s funeral – makes us look like a bunch of idiots. I cannot comprehend how the journalist thought his story was a “feel-good story for SA”.