FACT CHECK | What really happened to the Tembisa 10? Why Independent Media's claims just don't hold up

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  • During a media briefing on the findings of a probe into reports on the birth of decuplets, known as the "Tembisa 10", Independent Media chairperson Iqbal Survé evaded direct responsibility.
  • An independent, external investigation found that Pretoria News editor Piet Rampedi was "reckless" to publish a story on the Tembisa 10.
  • The Gauteng government has threatened to take legal action against the media company.

What was touted as an "explosive" briefing on the release of findings of a probe into world-exclusive Independent Media reports on the birth of decuplets, known as the "Tembisa 10", has left the nation with more questions than answers – and a lawsuit for the media house.

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.

The panel. Adv Michael Donen, Dr Mpho Pooe and Iqbal Survé.

Instead, he said that the public should wait for the answers, which are expected to be revealed in a 10-part Netflix-like series run by his titles. It will detail what happened to the mother and the babies.

It seems very few politicians, doctors and nurses had any reasons to have a "sleepless" night, as one Independent Media advert that punted the briefing claimed.

News24 analyses five claims raised by Survé and one of the doctors who accompanied him to determine if they bring us closer to the truth.

These are the five claims made in the briefing:
  • NO EVIDENCE: 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. As an aside, it's also not clear why mentioning the so-called doctor's nationality is pertinent to the claim. Survé didn't expand on this.
  • NO EVIDENCE: He 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. Dr Nilesh Patel, Lenmed's group chief medical officer, said the protocol for multiple births necessitated the attending obstetricians to inform the hospital in advance. "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 LenMed Zamokuhle Private Hospital in Tembisa been expecting more than two neonates, Zamokuhle would have instituted alternative arrangements." The Gauteng government has also denied the claims and said they would be suing the media group. "The government conducted a thorough check with all hospitals in the province, public and private, [and no one] had any records of such births at their facilities," spokesperson Vuyo Mhaga said. He said Sithole was admitted to hospital on 18 June and after extensive tests, it was established she was not pregnant and had not given birth.
  • NO EVIDENCE: Survé also claimed that government and private hospitals groups were involved in a baby trafficking ring. He said: "Our investigation uncovered horrific stories of baby trafficking and that babies are trafficked from Gauteng to Mpumalanga, West Africa and overseas." He said they were trafficked for muti, stem cell surgery and adoptions. What do we know: LenMed chief executive Amil Devchand said: "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. No newborn baby may leave any of our hospitals without compliance to 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."
  • NO EVIDENCE: 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. "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. A Life Healthcare spokesperson said: "Due to our privacy policy, which is aligned to the Protection of Personal Information Act (Popia), we are not in a position to provide information regarding any patient or patient records."
  • 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: "It is possible to have a baby in the womb, and the tubes it is very, very rare. I suppose it's possible to have an ectopic pregnancy and multiple pregnancy. I have never seen it or read it in journals."

Survé failed to address what happened to the donations that Sithole and the father of the children, Teboho Tsotetsi, received from the public. He had also pledged R1 million to the family in a presentation at his offices in Cape Town.

It's also not clear what the group plans to do now that it claims to have uncovered a crime.

An independent, external investigation found that Pretoria News editor Piet Rampedi was "reckless" to publish the story that claimed the births occurred.

Advocate Michael Donen said he believed Sithole was pregnant because it was corroborated by other people, including neighbours and church members.

Iqbal Surve
The Gauteng provincial government has indicated it will be taking legal action against the Independent Media group.
PHOTO: Lerato Maduna

However, he found that Rampedi was reckless and breached Independent Media's code of conduct.

But the chairperson wasn't ready to discipline Rampedi, despite the serious findings.

Survé said: "Mr Rampedi's piece was a 'feel good' – we should cut him some slack. He is not everyone's favourite person; he made a mistake."

He added that he would not throw Rampedi under the bus.

'Unsubstantiated allegations'

Rampedi, who has always been vocal about the story, was not present at the briefing in Cape Town on Wednesday.

Yogas Nair, Independent Media's press ombud, found that Rampedi erred in his eagerness and failed to follow standard company procedure.

She said: 

Even the most innocuous reports demand care, checks and corroboration. The journalist's maxim must be that there is no 'small stuff'. Reports involving subjects and material with no obvious legal risks must meet the tests of accuracy and balance.

After the release of the report, the Gauteng government said it would take legal action against the media group over the "serious allegations made against nurses, doctors, hospital management and health officials".

The national Department of Health said it was "outraged by the damning and unsubstantiated allegations" in the report.

Department spokesperson Foster Mohale said: "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 healthcare workers to lodge a formal complaint with the relevant public institutions such as the Office of Health Ombud [or] Public Protector, or to open a criminal case with the law enforcement agencies for investigation and prosecution."

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