In June 2021, news outlets across the world reported that a woman in South Africa had given birth to 10 babies at once. BBC News, the New York Post and Newsweek, among others, all published stories which were careful to cite the original source of the story — Pretoria News, a newspaper based in the major South African city of Pretoria, in the province of Gauteng.
On June 8, Pretoria News broke the story, reporting that:
Gosiame Thamara Sithole, 37, gave birth to her decuplets – two more than doctors had earlier detected during the medical scans – at a hospital in Pretoria last night, said her husband Teboho Tsotetsi.
He said Sithole, who hails from Tembisa Township in Ekurhuleni, delivered her seven boys and three girls by Caesarean section. Sithole, who has six-year-old twins, previously told the Pretoria News that her pregnancy was natural as she was not on fertility treatment. Speaking to the Pretoria News last night, Tsotetsi said Sithole gave birth to their bundles of joy 29 weeks into her pregnancy.
“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 said.
On June 9, Sithole and Tsotetsi, in collaboration with Pretoria News, appealed to the public for donations and financial assistance in meeting the significant burden of looking after 10 newborn babies.
In the weeks after Pretoria News first broke the story, it slowly fell apart. Snopes made repeated inquiries to relevant parties over that time, and on June 23, the government of the province of Gauteng, in which the births purportedly took place, stated definitively that their own investigation had concluded Sithole did not give birth at all, in June 2021, and in fact was not even pregnant. We are therefore changing our rating to “False.” Here’s how the yarn unravelled.
No photographs of the babies, or other concrete evidence, were made public, from the time the story was first broken. On June 9, Tsotetsi addressed skepticism about the story in an interview with Pretoria News:
…He assured South Africans that the babies do exist but said the matter was sensitive because the babies were born premature.
“It is a very unique situation. They are premature, they are still incubated. Very small as you can think – 10 children in one womb that normally carries one baby. They are very small, so the sensitivity that goes into that, even the doctors, they don’t want to risk that.”
Tsotetsi said that as a family they also want to give doctors the space and privacy to provide the babies with the care they need. “People will see the babies at the right time.”
However, later that day the Gauteng provincial government cast serious doubt on the veracity of the story. In a news release posted to Twitter, the government wrote:
Following reports from the Independent Media Group about a Gauteng woman having given birth to decuplets on Monday, 7 June 2021, the Gauteng Provincial Government conducted a thorough check with all hospitals in the province to establish the veracity or otherwise of the report.
None of the hospitals in the province, public and private, have any records of such a delivery in their facilities.
On June 10, Snopes contacted Makgoshi Maponyane, a designated family spokesperson, as well as Piet Rampedi, the reporter who broke the story for Pretoria News, requesting details and evidence that might corroborate the decuplets story, or might allow us to make our own discreet enquiries about it. We never received a response from either.
On June 14, after this fact check was originally published, Pretoria News reported that Tsotetsi had claimed he could not locate Sithole or the children, and had provided a statement to police as part of a purported missing persons investigation. Snopes asked police in Gauteng province, and Pretoria, whether a missing persons investigation was being carried out for Sithole, but we did not receive a response.
According to that article, Tsotetsi said Sithole had told him she was in the care of a private hospital operated by the company Mediclinic, but had been moved from there on June 10. However, on June 10 Dr. Gerrit de Villiers, Chief Clinical Officer of Mediclinic Southern Africa, had already told Snopes in a statement that:
…We can confirm that none of our facilities were involved in the obstetric care of this patient or her decuplets.
That further undermined the credibility of the story.
Finally, on June 23, the Gauteng provincial government definitively declared the story to have been false. In a statement posted to Twitter, officials said their investigation had concluded not only that Sithole did not give birth in June 2021, but that she had not even been pregnant, adding that she had been hospitalized under South Africa’s Mental Health Act, for unspecified reasons:
Social workers attached to the Gauteng Department of Social Development made contact with Ms. Sithole to establish her whereabouts to determine how the department could provide any assistance and care for her and her children. The social workers became concerned with Ms. Sithole’s state of health and arranged for her admission at Tembisa Hospital for observation.
…It has now been established by medical practitioners that Ms. Sithole did not give birth to any babies in recent times. It has also been established that she was not pregnant in recent times.
…The Gauteng Provincial Government is deeply concerned by the conduct of…Independent Media, particularly the editor of Pretoria News, Mr. Piet Rampedi. The Provincial government has instructed the State Attorney to institute legal action against Mr. Rampedi and the Independent Group.
For his part, Rampedi remained defiant, writing on June 24 “I stand by my story,” but again presenting no concrete evidence to support the core claim that Sithole gave birth to 10 babies at one time, in June 2021.