Cape Town - The government has been urged to institute a full-blown investigation into the disappearance of the Tembisa decuplets and the way their mother Gosiame Sithole was treated at the hands of public officials.
This after one of the country's top legal minds, human rights lawyer Advocate Michael Donen, SC, as well as an independent medical practitioner Dr Mpho Pooe confirmed at a news conference that Sithole had indeed been pregnant.
The news conference attended by Independent Media executive chairman Dr Iqbal Survé, Donen and Dr Pooe presented several shocking revelations about the birth and subsequent disappearance of what has become known as the “Tembisa 10”.
The revelations were derived from concurrent investigations Independent Media instituted off the back of question marks over the veracity of the original story Pretoria News editor Piet Rampedi broke.
Donen had led an independent external probe into the story, while Pooe was tasked with examining Sithole after her release from Weskoppies Psychiatric Hospital.
Evidence uncovered pointed towards a massive cover-up by government officials and possible human and baby trafficking stemming from Tembisa Hospital.
Dr Survé said the evidence has led to an ongoing investigation which pointed to a highly organised baby trafficking syndicate operating in state hospitals exploiting vulnerable black women to traffic babies primarily to West Africa and overseas.
The news conference heard that the existence of the syndicate might explain the systematic, detailed and high-level cover-up of the birth.
The press conference referenced a synopsis of the reports from Independent Media’s press ombud Yogas Nair, Donen and Pooe as well as Independent Media’s own internal investigation.
Independent Media’s series of investigations was launched following the public outcry, and the several contradictory statements issued by various government departments, officials and hospital personnel.
Calling for the government to do its own investigation, Dr Survé said: “We call upon the doctors and the nurses to be suspended and licences to be revoked, hospital staff involved should be thoroughly investigated, as to what happened to the babies themselves.
“Government makes all sorts of statements about gender-based violence (GBV), yet there has been a massive abuse of a vulnerable black woman, and innumerable others like her.
“This is unquestionably a GBV issue. If the government is serious about addressing this scourge, it will act against all those implicated and immediately. There is no time to waste.”
Dr Survé said there was no doubt that a travesty of justice had occurred, and that the government was culpable in this and in covering up medical negligence.
He said the government was also to blame for how state hospitals were being used as centres for syndicates and covering up that this is extensive throughout Gauteng and at least in one other province.
Donen said Sithole had interacted with many people including her church congregation and it was highly unlikely that she could not have been pregnant. He also questioned the actions of government officials during the entire saga during which her constitutional rights were violated.
Backing the call for further investigations, Donen said: “By virtue of their function and duty to investigate and report government wrongdoing to the public, Independent Media should pursue their current investigations into the alleged birth and existence of the decuplets.”
He said this should include probing the disappearance of a set of triplets born to Sithole in a previous incident at Steve Biko Academic Hospital, and the conduct of state institutions and officials.
An at times emotional Dr Pooe said: “There is a very serious legal fraud, we need to involve SIU and the Hawks if possible. We should demand justice for this woman.
“My findings are scary. Gosiame was pregnant, she gave birth recently, there was a new caesarean section scar. There was oozing infection on the scar which means that this is not an old scar. Also her tummy was stretched
“This is a woman who has been abused by the system. This is a woman who has been taken advantage of. Unethical processes occurred.
“There is a file number that I have verified with the Department of Health Gauteng belonging to Steve Biko Hospital,” said Dr Pooe.
The Gauteng provincial government said it had instructed the State Attorney to institute legal action against Independent Media.
“The provincial government cannot stand by while serious allegations are made against nurses, doctors, hospital management and health officials,” it said.
The Lenmed Group denied that Sithole gave birth to decuplets at Zamokuhle Private Hospital in Thembisa.
Chief executive Amil Devchand said:“We have detailed, secure and verified records of all births at our facilities. No one by that name [Gosiame Sithole] has given birth, nor have there been any multiple births at the hospital during that time.”
Nair said: “Whilst we can no longer question that Sithole was indeed pregnant and with multiple babies, and that Rampedi was correct in his assertion of this, there should be no degrees of diligence in compiling and publishing news reports.
“Even the most innocuous reports demand care, checks and corroboration. The journalist’s maxim must be that there is no small stuff.
“Following our own conclusions as a panel and on recommendations from advocate Donen, Independent Media should henceforth adopt the operational credo of the more eyes and consultation, the better.”