Last two weeks, a Pretoria-based news organisation, Pretoria News, broke the story that a South African woman had given birth to 10 children. The report, which was republished by many news outlets including the BBC, suggested the woman had broken a world record previously held by a Malian who had given birth to nine children in Morocco in May 2021.
Gosiame Thamara Sithole, 37, was reported to have given birth to 10 babies, seven boys and three girls, through a caesarean operation in a hospital in Guateng, a province in South Africa.
Sithole, who is said to have six-year-old twins already, had told the media that her pregnancy was natural and she was not on fertility treatment. Her boyfriend, Tebogo Tsotetsi, also shared his joy about the news.
“It’s seven boys and three girls. She was seven months and seven days pregnant. I am happy. I am emotional. I can’t talk much. Let’s talk again in the morning please,” Tsotetsi told Pretoria News.
News about the birth of the decuplets has attracted a lot of enquiries and interests from both individuals and institutions across the world. This includes the Guinness World Records who told the BBC it was investigating Ms Sithole’s case.
Fact-Check Ghana has been following the issue and has made these observations.
Guateng Provincial Government cannot trace hospital where babies were delivered
On Wednesday, June 9, 2021, the Guateng Provincial Government issued a statement indicating they were unable to trace the hospital where Ms Sithole delivered the decuplets. The government said it checked through all the hospitals in the province.
“None of the hospitals in the province, public or private, have any records of such a delivery in their facilities,” the statement said.
South Africa’s Director-General of Government Communications suggests story is Fake
On June 8, the Director-General of South Africa’s Government Communication Information Systems (GCIS), Phumla Williams, made a tweet indicating that authorities couldn’t find any evidence of the story published by Pretoria News, which belongs to the Independent Media group (@OIL on Twitter).
“We have spent a better part of today tracing the story of @IOL of a woman having given birth to 10 babies! @IOL can you please help the public where this birth happened!” the tweet said.
Family of boyfriend says they have not seen the 10 babies
In what is supposed to be the latest update in the chain of developments casting doubt on the veracity of Ms. Sithole’s delivery of decuplets, the family of Tebogo Tsotetsi, her boyfriend, issued a statement on June 15, stating that Tsotesti had informed them that he had not seen the decuplets but only relied on his girlfriend who called to inform him of their birth.
The family released the statement after they met at their family house in Thembisa, a township in the Gauteng province.
“The matter remains very sensitive and worrying especially with Gosiame Sithole’s whereabouts unknown and we call on members of the public to stop donating money into any bank account for the decuplets,” the statement said.
“We appreciate the public interests and support for the decuplets, and with no proof of their existence we firmly believe it’s in the interests of everyone to conclude that they do not exist, until proven otherwise,” the statement added.
Journalist who broke the story insists it is true; challenges government and boyfriend’s family
Contrary to the suggestions that story is false, Piet Mahasha Rampedi, the journalist who wrote the story, has debunked claims that the babies do not exist.
In a series of posts on his Twitter page, Rampedi has defended his credibility and that of the story. He has also questioned the intentions of the government and the family of Tebogo Tsotetsi.
“SA, I am a credible and reliable journalist who has NEVER lied to you. So is Independent Media. We will not start today. We are dealing with something bigger here. A grand conspiracy. A cover up. Unprecedented stuff. REST ASSURED. TRUST US. WE WILL NEVER DISAPPOINT YOU. #Sithole,” he tweeted.
He has also posted pictures and videos of Ms Sithole on Twitter challenging the Gauteng Provincial Government that the babies were born in Steve Biko academic hospital, which is located in Pretoria in the Gauteng Province.
“Was Sithole told to remain indoors at a state hospital lodge facility housing mothers of stillborns? Was she denied access to babies for three days & why? Did she storm into ICU & demand to see them? Was she threatened with arrest & referral to a mental institution?” Rampedi tweeted on June 15.
“Gosiamo #Sithole says the Tsotetsis are bitter because they wanted to use her to make money. She says they are being used by politicians. Sithole says she will not be pressured by the Tsotetsi family to disclose the whereabouts of her babies, because they never liked her anyway,” he also tweeted.
Media organisation of journalist defends him, calls on health department to “come clean”
Independent Media, owners of Pretoria news, issued a statement to defend the journalist. The media organisation also stated some key facts they realised from an internal investigation of the story. The statement also raised questions challenging the department of health, the government of the Guateng Province and the Steve Biko academic hospital who are reported to have denied the story.
“Instead of being a cause for celebration, however, it has resulted in an orchestrated campaign to discredit the story, the mother of the decuplets Ms Sithole, the Pretoria News’ editor, Piet Rampedi, as well as Independent Media and its chairperson, Dr Iqbal Survé, with claims that the story is ‘fake news’. It is not and we stand by our story,” Independent Media said in the statement.
The media organisation said it has established the facts below in its internal investigation on the story:
“1. Gosiame Thamara Sithole was admitted to Steve Biko Academic Hospital on Monday, June 7, 2021.
- She was admitted late in the morning and taken to the maternity ward.
- At 6pm or thereabouts, a group of four doctors and two nurses attended to Sithole.
- Sithole gave birth to five babies via vaginal delivery. Doctors then proceeded to do a Caesarian section and delivered the remaining five babies.
- Independent Media can confirm that Sithole was at Steve Biko Academic Hospital from June 7 until Friday, June 11.
- Independent Media can confirm that Sithole was transferred to the lodgers’ section on Thursday. She was not provided with food except for bread and tea in the mornings. She was provided with no medical or psychological assistance.”
According to Independent Media, these facts are corroborated by several independent sources, including staff at Steve Biko Academic Hospital.
Sithole arrested, detained for psychological evaluation; lawyer asked to file for interdiction
On Thursday, June 17, according to news reports, Gauteng Department of Social Development (GDSD) caused the arrest of Sithole. She was detained at the police station for the most part of the day before being released to Tembisa Hospital in Ekurhuleni for psychological evaluation. According to her lawyer, Refiloe Mokoena, she was detained against her will.
“When I left Tembisa Hospital, she made it very clear that she is now being held against her will, that I should please [file] an urgent court order for her to be released because they intend holding her for a period of 72 hours,” Mokoena reported to the media.
On their side, the police have explained that they detained Sithole on Thursday as a follow-up to a missing person enquiry. They said their instructions were to hand her over to the GDSD.
According to lawyer Refiloe Mokoena, Sithole says her babies are with the social workers who have informed her that they are safe. She (Sithole) however does not know where the babies are currently.
Meanwhile, the Independent Media organisation emphasises there is a mammoth cover-up by the state on the birth of Sithole’s decuplets.
“Sources told the Pretoria News the denials were part of a campaign to cover up medical negligence that involved senior politicians and public servants,” the media organisation alleged in a report on Thursday.