Outrage over ‘fake’ interpreter at Mandela memorial

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JOHANNESBURG — To those outside the deaf community, the sign language interpreter for Nelson Mandela’s memorial may have looked like he was working very hard, translating the spoken words into gestures for four hours.

But he was a complete fake, and his actions outraged deaf people around the world, according to an association for the deaf community in South Africa.

The service to commemorate the revered statesman, who died last week at the age of 95, was broadcast to millions of viewers around the world.

While dignitaries addressed the crowd Tuesday at Johannesburg’s FNB stadium, the suited man with a security pass produced a series of hand signals that experts say meant nothing.

The Deaf Federation of South Africa (DeafSA) said the “interpreter” was not a recognized professional, nor was he known by the deaf community in the country.

“The so-called ‘interpreter’ who interpreted at the official memorial service for late former president Nelson Mandela at FNB stadium has been dubbed the ‘fake interpreter’ and the deaf community is in outrage,” DeafSA said in a statement.

The man did not use facial expressions, which in South African sign language are an important part of communication, and the hand signals he used were meaningless, it said.

“The signs (self-invented signs) the interpreter used are not used in South African Sign Language and it is a total mockery of the language,” DeafSA said.

He also did not use the established, recognized signs for the names of Mandela, South African President Jacob Zuma and his predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, among others, DeafSA added.

“This proves that he is not involved in the deaf community and doesn’t know South African Sign Language,” it said.

“To the best of our knowledge, he has not undergone any formal training in South African Sign Language or Interpreting offered by any recognized institution which offers these training courses.”

South African government spokeswoman Phumla Williams said she could not immediately comment on the allegations.

“I am still trying to get the feedback from the people who hired him. I am not in a position to respond,” she told CNN.

“Once I have that information I will respond.”

World leaders from President Barack Obama to Cuba’s Raul Castro joined celebrities, religious figures and tens of thousands of ordinary South Africans to pay tribute to Mandela at the Tuesday service.


  • Robert Rulesoforder

    And these folks run SA? Clearly a bozo did not check this guy out, I hope SA don’t have the bomb!

  • Anita Hancock

    Has anybody thought maybe he just pretended his way on
    to the stage saying “I’m the interpreter” just to get on camera?
    Their a lot of camera hogs out there. I have found it is very easy to walk in anywhere if you just look like you know something.

    • Sammy Two Hats

      You sound jealous….. Maybe cause in death he is more popular than you will ever be? Go back to the trailerpark.

      • The One

        Sammy you sound jealous! Maybe you are one of the 51% of the people that live off the people that actually work for a living.

  • Mark Stabler

    There should be just as much outrage about the conduct of the leaders of the world who were busy playing “footsie” and making pictures of themselves instead of showing respect to the man that they traveled halfway around the world to honor, If it was all just for show and not heartfelt respect…then they showed what really poor actors and politicians they really are.

    • BB

      Mark, all your comment does is show that you made a snap judgement based on a picture taken in a situation that you know very little about. Had the world leaders you speak of remained stoic and “respectful” as you implore, they would have actually been being disrespectful, in a way. South African funerals, especially this one, are nothing like the morbid drudge-fests we have here in the US. They last for hours. People dance, sing, laugh, talk, eat, drink, joke, smile, and celebrate at events like this. They use funerals to celebrate life, not mourn. The behavior in the picture that everyone’s “so upset” about is completely normal and natural for a South African funeral. I highly suggest that in the future you take the time to educate yourself on the customs and traditions of other countries before you judge the way you believe someone is behaving there.

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