South Africa’s deaf community on Wednesday accused the sign language interpreter at Nelson Mandela’s memorial of being a fake, who had merely flapped his arms around during speeches.
DeafSA, South Africa’s leading deaf association, condemned the presence of the unknown man at the memorial to Mandela attended by President Jacob Zuma and scores of world leaders including US President Barack Obama.
While dignitaries were addressing the crowd in the 95,000-seat Soccer City stadium, the young suited man with an official security pass round his neck produced a series of hand signals that experts said meant absolutely nothing.
“He’s a complete fraud,” said Cara Loening, director of Sign Language Education and Development in Cape Town. “He wasn’t even doing anything, There was not one sign there. Nothing. He was literally flapping his arms around.”
The interpreter, who translated US President Barack Obama’s speech, looked as if he was “trying to swat a few flies away from his face and his head”.
“The deaf community in South Africa are completely outraged and nobody knows who he is,” added Loening. “We can’t find a name or anything. The organisations who have accredited interpreters do not know him at all.”
@BrunoDruchen please can someone ask the interpreter to step down from stage, it is embarrassing and making a mockery of our profession
— Francois (@FrancoisDeysel) December 10, 2013
The government organisers of the event, as well as broadcaster SABC could not immediately be contacted.
Attended by nearly 100 sitting and former heads of state, the speeches at Mandela’s memorial on Tuesday were supposed to be interpreted into sign language for deaf viewers.
Delphin Hlungwane, a spokesperson for the Deaf Federation of South Africa, said the man picked for the job was “just gesturing in the air”.
“He didn’t interpret at all, he had zero percent accuracy,” Hlungwane said. “International people were watching it as well and they all said he was not using any kind of sign language. They all said they don’t understand him.”
Hlungwane said the ‘interpreter’ also failed to impart to television viewers – as he should have done – that the crowd gave a hostile reception to Zuma, a scandal-plagued leader who faces an election in less than six months.
@ANC_KKhoza ANC linked interpreter on the stage with dep president of ANC is signing rubbish. He cannot sign. Please get him off
— wilma newhoudt (@newhoudt) December 10, 2013
Loening said her organisation was getting mails from around the world “wondering what on earth this man was doing there”.
“It’s a real embarrassment. Its complete disrespect for the deaf community and for what Nelson Mandela stood for and the support which he gave toward he deaf community.”
— Braam Jordaan (@braamjordaan) December 10, 2013
Minister Collins Chabane said that the government will probe the alleged incorrect use of sign language by an official interpreter at Mandela’s memorial.
AFP & Reuters