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Tuesday, June 28, 2022

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I stand by my Tembisa decuplets story

Piet Mahasha Rampedi is editor of Pretoria News.

Piet Mahasha Rampedi is editor of Pretoria News.

Published Jun 24, 2021


Pretoria - There are different interpretations of what the phrase “the truth shall set you free” means. For US writer Suzy Kassem, it simply means that the “truth will never imprison you. Only the repression of your conscience will”.

What follows below is about truth, conscience and lies.

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On 8 June, the Pretoria News broke the story online that Ms Gosiame Sithole had given birth to 10 babies on June 7. Since then, a series of events have unfolded, involving Ms Sithole, me as the editor of Pretoria News and the author of the stories, and my employer Independent Media.

The latest event is the statement issued by the Gauteng government on 23 June in which they informed the public that they have instructed the State Attorney's Office to litigate against me and Independent Media.

It is unusual for the government to litigate against the media. It is an infringement of media freedom, and suggests an attempt to intimidate me and the media in general from publishing the story.

I find it odd that multiple government agencies have a targeted campaign against myself and Independent Media when all they simply need to do is confirm the following: Did Ms Sithole attend any state and private sector hospitals to give birth to 10 babies. If so, which hospital, and where are the babies? Can they confirm if all the decuplets are alive, and if not, how many have survived?

The government appears to be involved in a cloak and dagger operation instead of unveiling the truth. The only question is why?

So what is the truth and what are the lies or misrepresentations?

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Let’s start with Ms Sithole’s story and the extraordinary machinations that were employed to silence this woman and make an untruth of her experience.

Ms Sithole broke her silence for the first time about the decuplets’ delivery in an interview with Independent Media last Tuesday. However, she did not state their whereabouts and their state of health. Days later, the police detained her at the crack of dawn under the pretext of investigating a missing person’s inquiry.

Even though they said she was not under arrest and no case had been opened against Ms Sithole, they kept her at the Chloorkop police station for hours, saying they had the mandate to “hand her over” to the Gauteng Department of Social Development.

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According to her partner Teboho Tsotetsi’s family, they were told by a government official to open the missing person case. Upon confirming she was not missing, a sentiment shared by the Gauteng Department of Social Development in a statement released on June 11, the Tsotetsi family told the police to drop the case but they refused. Instead, the police said they would drop the case after getting a statement from Mr Tsotetsi and seeing Ms Sithole in person.

Social Development took Ms Sithole against her will to the Tembisa Hospital and kept her in isolation. They had a State attorney and an advocate and used the Mental Health Act, saying she was a danger to herself, and told the police and Ms Sithole's lawyer that they have the right to keep her in hospital for 72 hours.

They denied her legal rights, saying she was now their patient. In her handwritten letter read out to her lawyer and the social workers before being driven to the Tembisa Hospital, which she asked that it be brought to my attention, Ms Sithole said she was being forced to go to a place of safety, to subject herself to medical tests by government doctors against her will.

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The lawyer later told the media that the same department refused her permission to arrange private medical practitioners and psychologists to examine Ms Sithole alongside government ones. The Department of Health also refused Tsotetsi access to see Sithole. It later suspended all visiting hours to the Tembisa hospital, citing Covid-19 regulations.

What is clear is that Ms Sithole has been denied her rights, was threatened that her 6-year-old twins would be removed from her care if she did not cooperate. She was physically dragged to the hospital against her will.

In doing this, the departments of Health and Social Development have denied the decuplets’ mother her human rights, and the right to see her children.

President Cyril Ramaphosa repeatedly speaks out against gender-based violence, and recently allocated millions of rand to fight it, but here we have a situation where three government departments terrorised a mother that had just recently given birth and subjected her to harsh treatment and detention despite her lawyer's presence, putting it in writing that she is of sound mind and she's being taken against her will.

On Tuesday, private investigators traced the decuplets to the George Mukhari Academic Hospital north of Pretoria, where they were moved after being hidden at another hospital which, according to sources, was Steve Biko Academic Hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (ICU).

At George Mukhari Hospital, we were told, the decuplets were hidden at ward 22, a neonatal intensive care unit, under heavy security presence which included plain-clothes police. On hearing that his decuplets were held at George Mukhari Hospital, Tsotetsi, the father of the 10 babies, rushed to the hospital located in Ga-Rankuwa to see them.

He was denied access to the ICU by the CEO of the hospital. Tsotetsi was appalled when he was reliably informed that the babies were first moved in the cold of winter, from Steve Biko Academic Hospital to George Mukhari Hospital.

Mr Tsotetsi was further shocked when he was informed that, as a result of his visit the babies were once again moved from George Mukhari to another unknown hospital, again placing his neonates at risk.

Mr Tsotetsi went to the Brooklyn Police Station to lay criminal charges against the CEO of George Mukhari Hospital, and the police refused to open the case, on the basis that the mother had said on social media that she knew where her babies were, and that she would reveal that at the right time. He said the police also told him to first discuss the matter with the departments of Health and Social Development before coming back to them.

This, after the mother had demanded that Steve Biko Hospital allow her to see her babies while she was recovering in the post-maternity (lodges) ward.

We also heard that no phones were allowed inside the ward, and that cameras had been installed to monitor the movements in and around it.

The pain, heartache and confusion that this woman must be experiencing is beyond comprehension.

Let’s now turn to my role.

I stand by my story. Ms Sithole was pregnant and gave birth to her 10 babies on June 7, 2021. It’s a fact.

If you read the statement I released earlier this week, you will notice that I did not apologise for the story. I did, however, apologise to my colleagues for the process fol-lowed, and because it was used by my detractors to impugn their professional integrity, thus affecting their reputations.

Despite all the naysayers out there, and there are plenty of them jumping with glee at this fall-out, I invite them to cast aspersions on those stories that they celebrated as telling truth to power and holding those in leadership positions to account.

The first series of stories that I investigated was on Limpopo tender fraud and corruption. I won national awards and was heralded as a rising star in the world of investigative journalism.

There are few others that I will mention here: the Gauteng personal protective equipment (PPE) fraudulent contracts, the CR17 bank statements, the R500 000 Bosasa donation, and the role of President Ramaphosa’s administration in the smuggling of Prophet Shepherd Bushiri out of the country in the Malawian presidential jet last year, among others.

Bushiri is facing charges of fraud and money laundering. It is these stories in particular, I am told, that riled my detractors, senior civil servants and politicians in the Ramaphosa administration. This was the final straw, I hear, because they debunked the myth that the administration was clean and undermined its anti-corruption ticket.

Several government officials - including Government Communications and Information Systems (GCIS) chief executive Phumla Williams, Gauteng government spokesperson Thabo Masebe, Social Development Department spokesperson Lumka Olifant and Steve Biko Academic Hospital CEO Dr Mathabo Mathebula - all denied the birth of Sithole’s decuplets’ and their existence.

There are those who have actively become involved in this tragic series of events, including Mathebula, Gauteng Premier David Makhura, Health MEC Dr Nomathemba Mokgethi, Social Development MEC Morakane Mosupye, Community Safety MEC Faith Mazibuko , the CEO of George Mukhari and acting Health Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane.

If what they have said or insinuated in the media is true, they should immediately give sworn affidavits in that regard stating that Ms Sithole was never pregnant, that her 10 babies were never at any state institutions, and that they and or their departments know nothing about the decuplets’ whereabouts.

It is for these reasons that I will vigorously defend any litigation by the government. I will defend myself from any legal threats since I have done nothing wrong other than write about Ms Sithole and the decuplets.

If anyone should be legally held to account, it is the senior government officials, politicians and healthcare personnel that are colluding to hide the birth of Ms Sithole’s 10 babies, thus putting the neonates at risk.

They should be held accountable personally and collectively should any or all of the neonates die in their care while using them as bait to pursue an obsessive political agenda to bully, discredit and silence me as a journalist.

If anything happens to me, Ms Sithole and Mr Tsotetsi, they should also be held personally and collectively accountable.

There are three possible reasons why the government officials and politicians have colluded to hide the existence of the decuplets.

Firstly, there was a desire to punish and silence me for exposing their scandals.

Secondly, there was an attempt to hide possible medical negligence and malpractice.

And lastly, there was an attempt to discredit and undermine my professional integrity and destroy my reputation as a journalist and that of Independent Media as a media organisation.

What is it that the government is hiding? Why is the government so hell-bent on cutting off Ms Sithole from her family, close friends and the outside world?

What are they afraid of? Why did they deny her lawyer access? Why did they refuse private medical practitioners and psychologists arranged by Sithole to examine her alongside those hired by the government? Why have they not charged Sithole with fraud and misrepresentation if they are so convinced that she lied about the pregnancy and the existence of the decuplets? Why are Independent Media and myself the main targets of the litigation.

But no matter what the truth about the woman from Tembisa and her babies will emerge!

I will be making myself available for public media engagements with all media to share details about the story.

I will also share information that shows that Ms Sithole was pregnant, gave birth and that the South African government may be complicit in hiding and withholding information to serve a political agenda. I won’t be bullied into retracting a true story.

I am essentially being pressured - through orchestrated smear campaigns and abuse of state institutions - to depart from the truth about the decuplets for the sake of avoiding litigation. I won’t. I have never. And never will. I stand by the decuplets story.

As Kassem said, the “truth will never imprison you. Only the repression of your conscience will”.

* Piet Mahasha Rampedi is editor of Pretoria News