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Dr Mpho Pooe wants justice for mom and babies

Dr Mpho Pooe during a press briefing at Independent Media on the missing decuplets and the subsequent treatment of Gosiame Sithole with human rights activist advocate Michael Donan. Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency(ANA)

Dr Mpho Pooe during a press briefing at Independent Media on the missing decuplets and the subsequent treatment of Gosiame Sithole with human rights activist advocate Michael Donan. Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency(ANA)

Published Oct 31, 2021


Cape Town – She was front and centre of one of the most highly anticipated press conferences in South Africa this week.

Dr Mpho Pooe, who holds a medicine and surgery degree (MBBCh) has been leading investigations into the disappearance of the decuplets known as the Tembisa 10.

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She cut a cool and calm figure for someone who’s life has been threatened and shunned by some of her peers for simply doing her job.

Dr Mpho Pooe, right, accompanied Princess Zenani Mandela-Dlamini to her mother, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela’s funeral in 2018. Supplied

Pooe said she stood by her findings, released at Wednesday’s Independent Media press conference held at Newspaper House, that Gosiame Sithole gave birth to the babies.

As she ended her address to the media about her investigation, she teared up in disbelief at how Sithole was treated by the medical profession, saying “the world had let Gosiame down”.

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But why would Pooe, a distinguished medical professional, put her career on the line like this?

Why would she risk being publicly attacked by those who had already decided the entire story was fake news?

To understand the veteran doctor’s role in the story that has captured the nation since June, we found out more about the woman behind the headlines.

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With 17 years of professional experience, the doctor’s credentials are impressive.

In the early days of her medical service, she worked in the public health sector in Qwa Qwa and Harrismith in the Free State.

“Then I went back to school for postgraduate studies where I was the registrar in obstetrics and gynaecology for six years.

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“My research was about the impact of HIV on cervical cancer patients,” she says.

“From there, I went to work in the military hospital as a soldier in the gynaecology department.”

Pooe has always fought for the rights of women doctors and women's rights.

“In 2009, I led the strike for OSD - occupational specific dispensation, and it improved the doctors' salaries and recognition,” she recalled.

“I got involved in a car accident during that time and sustained cervical spine injuries.”

She admitted activism has always been part of her DNA.

“I have always been an activist, with my focus centred on gender-based violence.

“I am part of the ANC Women’s League. I was the president at Samatu (SA Medical Association Trade Union) until last year.

“And I was on the central executive committee of Cosatu.

“And I am also a founding member of Mwasa, Medical Women Association of South Africa, started in 2011,” she said.

“We advocate for female doctors in the health sector.

“No one understands women better than women and the troubles we go through as women.

“We fall pregnant, and it's like a sin.

“You’re not supposed to fall pregnant even though it is a biological right.

“I’m more interested in women's health and assisting all the women who are suffering from cancer.”

While some of us struggle to find an hour in our busy lives to do the things we're genuinely passionate about, Pooe miraculously finds time to:

- assist with research on the impact of Covid-19 on the health workers’ labour sector.

- runs a private practice in Louis Pasteur Hospital in Pretoria – oversees a programme that helps young drug addicts in the townships of Orlando East and Soweto.

She said her investigation into the whereabouts of the decuplets had taken a toll on her personal life.

“I’ve had my tyres slashed and my car lights smashed out,” she said, which forced her to change vehicles and use the friend’s cars.

“People feel threatened when you are threatening their space and their comfort.

“All these things happened during our investigations.”

But what has the reaction been from her colleagues regarding some of her findings?

“At first, everyone was excited,” she said.

“Then people want to look at the medical books, is it possible, is it not possible (for someone to give birth to 10 babies).

“And the only possibility they can come up with is that it must be because of IVF (In Vitro Fertilisation).

“And now, when you get the history that she had multiple pregnancies several times, and then you say to yourself – this is an interesting case.

“Now people started shifting the goal-posts.

“And Tembisa Hospital says the babies are not there.

“And people start labelling her (Sithole) and they think the whole story is a joke.

“Now when facts are presented, people are still asking, is this true?

“And interestingly, even the health workers, like the doctors, want to see the babies’ pictures.

“And they know the Children’s Act prohibits that.

“We have to protect those babies.

“We are saying, there is information, there is proof.

“Several things happened. You as an academic.

“You as a doctor, as an educated person, a lightbulb must start flashing, and you need to ask yourself some questions – what is happening?

“So in one of the (social) groups of the doctors, it was heated since Thursday morning, asking where the babies are?

“If the babies are there, they are there. If the woman has delivered, she has delivered.

“There is a Caesar scar there.

“We are hoping the babies will be found. I am happy there’s a campaign circulating that says Justice 4 Gosiame, which excites me. The group’s name is The Imperfect Mom’s Foundation.

“As much as I have been shunned, there’s equal (numbers of) people who believe me.

“I have seen lots of people coming for me.

“I realised, in this situation, there will be people who would want to pull you down, people who want to discourage you, but if you know the truth, why should you be afraid?”

Pooe tells Independent Media that she is as emboldened as ever in her quest for the truth.

“People are anxious, but within a week or two, we’ll be publishing all the evidence.”

Meanwhile, the obstetrics and gynaecology and paediatric clinical and academic departments at both the Steve Biko Academic and Tembisa Hospitals released a statement.

They noted “with regret the highly improbable and defamatory statements made by the Independent Media Group and Dr Mpho Pooe about staff in our institutions”.

“We state unequivocally that none of our medical personnel has been involved in the antenatal, intrapartum or post-natal care of a woman with eight or more babies in 2021.

“Furthermore, records of the College of Medicine of SA (CMSA) confirm that Dr Mpho has not qualified as an obstetrician and gynaecologist.”

Pooe disputed the accusation.

“I am qualified not certified.” Adding: “They should investigate the case… Why don’t they dig?

“Let them do their own investigation,” she said.

Weekend Argus