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Acting PP agrees Tembisa decuplets never existed – but still no scrutiny for Piet Rampedi and Iqbal Surve’s role

Acting PP agrees Tembisa decuplets never existed – but still no scrutiny for Piet Rampedi and Iqbal Surve’s role
Illustrative image | Sources: Independent Media's Iqbal Survé. (Photo: Robbie Tshabalala) | Piet Rampedi. (Photo: Facebook)

Despite being the instigator of the Tembisa 10 Story, Pretoria News Editor Piet Rampedi was not interviewed for the Public Protector’s investigation into the allegations pertaining to the treatment of the mother of the fabled decuplets. His boss, Dr Iqbal Surve also escaped spotlight.

A year and a half after the events transpired, the Public Protector ended 2022 by releasing a report that confirmed that the media claims that a ‘Tembisa 10’ mother gave birth to decuplets in June 2021 at Steve Biko Hospital were “unsubstantiated” –  as were other several claims submitted by her partner, Tebogo Edward Tsotetsi.

Tsotetsi also alleged that:

  • Sithole was refused access to see her decuplets,
  • she was wrongfully admitted to Tembisa Hospital for medical observation following the ‘birth’; and
  • her medical information was wrongfully shared to the Gauteng Provincial Government and to the media, which confirmed she was never pregnant.

Most of this is well-known, and at this point, well-recycled in the media. Perhaps the most interesting insight of the Public Prosecutor’s report is that out of all affidavits, reports and letters from doctors, government officials and witnesses involved in the case – Piet Rampedi was not interviewed.

To recap, in June 2021, Pretoria News made international headlines when the outlet’s editor Piet Rampedi published a story claiming that a Tembisa mother, Gosiame Sithole, had broken a world record by giving birth to 10 babies (decuplets).

It turned out, the decuplets never existed.

The disappearing decuplets: deconstructing the fable of the 10 babies

But a few weeks after the false news broke (7 June 2021) and the media frenzy followed, Tebogo Edward Tsotetsi, the thought-to-be father of the decuplets, filed a complaint to the Public Protector (22 June 2021), alleging maladministration and improper conduct by officials of the Gauteng Provincial Department, the Gauteng departments of Health and Social Development as well as SAPS and Ekurhuleni Municipality. 

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

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

Then on 23 June 2021, the Gauteng Provincial Government (GPG) issued a media statement saying that a medical examination carried out at Tembisa Hospital found that Ms Sithole had not given birth and has not been pregnant “in recent times.”

Sithole’s partner, Tsotetsi, alleged that Tembisa Hospital officials acted improperly when involuntarily admitting his customary wife, Moliehi Maria Sithole (Gosiame 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 that they did not share her medical examinations with the media through the spokesperson of the Gauteng Provincial Government (GPG), like Tsotetsi alleged.

“Instead, evidence indicates that 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 media statement, however, without providing in depth detail,” the report stated, actions which Gcaleka  says are not in contravention of Section 33 of the Mental Health Care Act.

Tsotetsi also alleged that after getting the medical information from the hospital, the GPG unlawfully divulged  Sithole’s medical information to the media and to 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, a myriad media articles were published by Independent Media and the Pretoria News about Ms Sithole having given birth to decuplets at the Steve Biko Hospital. The Independent Media and the Pretoria News stated this as a fact and not allegations.

“That to this end, the GPG conducted an internal investigation to test the veracity of these media articles most of which were continuously misleading and confusing the public about the GPG, the Gauteng Department of Health and Health Facilities within the Province.”

He went on to state that as these perpetual media articles created negative perceptions to the general public about the Gauteng Health facilities and the GPG” and that the GPG was expected to respond otherwise it would seem like they had something to hide, the GPG made the decision to set the record straight with an internal investigation, which revealed Sithole was never pregnant.

“It was only then that the decision was taken to prepare a media statement to alleviate possible doubts, fear and misconception by the general public about visiting Health Facilities and about GPG,” wrote Mbada.

Mbada said the media statement was meant to refute the articles as false and unsubstantiated, to communicate the facts and to emphasise the GPG’s “commitment to continue to give medical, psychological and social support to Ms Sithole.”

In her report, Gcaleka revealed that Tsotetsi submitted that on the day the decuplets were meant to be born, 7 June 2021, Sithole sent Tsotitsi a text message telling him she’d given birth to decuplets, after which Tosotetsi said “im (sic) immediately informed Mr Rampedi, at Pretoria News who published a story of the birth.”

A huge issue of contention of this story is not just the record breaking and absurd claim or how government and health officials acted, but how a journalist published this story without checking the facts.

Decupleting from reality: Iqbal Survé and Piet Rampedi leave Earth for Planet QAnon

The Independent Media’s own 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 Rampedi’s actions as “reckless” journalistic behaviour and said that his conduct amounted to a “serious” violation of media ethics. Independent Media’s boss, Dr Iqbal Surve, chose to ignore his own ombudsman’s report.

Revealed: Independent Media’s internal report on Piet Rampedi’s decuplets story found it was a hoax and demanded an apology

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 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. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Bill Gild says:

    What a sad world (country) in which we live, that this kind of nonsense is even given a single line in mainstream media.

  • Willem Boshoff says:

    This piece of gutter-journalism was exposed in no time, yet tax-funded resources were employed to give us an official report 18-months later. What a waste. Any chance the state can sue Rampedi/Surve to recover the costs of investigating their lurid fabrication?

  • Uma Kabanye says:

    The complaint was limited to accusing provincial health authorities of malpractice and the PP wisely (in my view) saved her limited resources for better ends than exposing Rampedi and Surve to even more ridicule.

  • Chris 123 says:

    Only the SARS Rogue unit and Cato Ridge Unit stories beat this fantasy, all dreamt up by RET cadres and their affiliates.

  • Karen G says:

    What I would like to know is why all the lies? Who was hoping to gain what from these lies?

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