Two men with department name tags gained access to Addington Hospital in an attempt to abduct newborn babies and their mothers, the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health said on Monday.
It is alleged that the two men accessed the hospital's maternity ward on Saturday and told nursing staff that they were collecting mothers and their newborn babies.
"This was under the pretext of helping the mothers register for the babies' birth certificates, as part of government's campaign to register all births within the first 30 days," a statement said.
"However, the alert sister in charge of the hospital at the time refused to release the mothers and their babies, and the men left shortly afterwards."
Health MEC Sibongiseni Dhlomo said that the incident was shocking and concerning.
"We are really taken aback. This has all the makings of attempted human trafficking. As the Department of Health, we have a partnership with the Department of Home Affairs whereby we run an online birth certificate registration system," he explained.
"This system ensures that all children who are born at major hospitals that are designated for specialised maternal and child care, such as Addington, leave the hospital with a birth certificate."
The programme was launched at Addington Hospital in 2014 by Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba.
"We are therefore extremely grateful to the sister in charge, who was vigilant and listened to her instinct and decided not to release the mothers and their babies," Dhlomo said.
"It is reprehensible that people would go to such lengths as to reproduce departmental name tags and try to commit something so heinous. The pain and suffering that could have resulted from this is unimaginable."
He urged all security personnel, nursing staff and mothers at all healthcare facilities to be vigilant.