Cape Town - Shock. Excitement. Incredulity. Awe. And envy? This is the gamut of emotions experienced in South Africa and abroad after Pretoria News and IOL broke the story of a South African woman Gosiame Thamara Sithole, 37, giving birth to a world record-breaking 10 babies at a Pretoria hospital.
The birth of the decuplets is a world first. And it was a world exclusive for us, scooping all local media and resulting in the world’s media beating a path to our door to secure the rights to use the pictures.
Mom and the Tembisa 10 (as the newborns have been dubbed) are under close guard and we are determined to honour their requests for non-disclosure of where they are. The decuplets’ dad, Tebogo Tsotetsi, said he broke down in tears when the babies were born.
He, too, requested that the family’s privacy be respected. “South Africa will see the babies at the right time”, he said in Cape Town after a private meeting with Pretoria News editor Piet Rampedi, who broke the story this week, and executive chairman of Independent Media, Dr Iqbal Survé.
Tsotetsi said his family was overwhelmed by the support they have received since the news broke of the Guinness World Record birth.
“I am still shocked, excited and I feel blessed and I feel overwhelmed by the support that I am getting.”
Pretoria News reported on Tuesday that the seven boys and three girls born to the couple were two more than the eight children doctors had earlier detected during the medical scans.
Tsotetsi said he was now the father of 16. He said he was grateful that God chose him to be the father to the miracles, especially in a trying time like Covid-19.
The babies were born prematurely and are still incubated. The incredible birth was not universally greeted with amazement and joy.
The world’s media beat a path to the African News Agency (Independent Media’s syndication partner) clamouring for pictures taken of a very pregnant Sithole and her husband Tebogo Tsotetsi weeks before the birth which were published on IOL and Pretoria News.
But in South Africa, it was a different story as a hamfisted government communications department and envious competitor media, scooped so effortlessly by Rampedi, ridiculed the Pretoria News lead story going so far, in some instances, as calling it “fake news”.
News24, Times Live, thesouthafrican.com and a number of lesser known publications all called for proof. Their headlines ranged from “Is it true”; “Can’t find verification”; to interviews with experts on why having 10 babies would be an impossible feat.
The government communication department released a statement a few hours after IOL published Rampedi’s story, questioning its veracity. A number of phone calls followed, to editors of Independent Media, Survé and other executives, demanding proof and details.
Late Wednesday afternoon, they ran stories that our story was, indeed, true. International news platforms from The Sun to CNN, New York Post to BBC splashed the story with headlines celebrating the births and the new Guinness World Record. “Perfect10”, said The Sun, “Word of the Day is Decuplets”, wrote the BBC.
Rampedi interviewed the couple two months ago, but said he held back on the story at the request of the family because of concerns about their safety and for cultural reasons. The couple had requested that the story be published after the birth.
Speaking to colleagues in Cape Town, Rampedi said that it was important for him and his team to treat them like humans and not a scoop.
“I knew that if we support the family as human beings and not just as the media or people whose only concern was nothing but a scoop,” he said.
Rampedi said that they could have written the story a long time ago.
The family spoke to Rampedi and Independent Media because they trusted them, he said.
He thanked his Pretoria News colleagues who knew about the story for over two months, but did not reveal details. “We all continued to treat people as humans and not subjects.”