An interpreter who was seen by millions of television viewers worldwide translating Nelson Mandela’s memorial service into sign language was a ‘fake’, according to South Africa’s deaf federation.
The embarrassing claim comes after yesterday’s ceremony which saw crowds in the third empty stadium boo the country’s president Jacob Zuma.
Three sign language experts said the man was not signing in South African or American sign languages. South African sign language covers all of the country’s 11 official languages, according to the federation.
Nicole Du Toit, an official sign language interpreter who also watched the broadcast, said in a telephone interview that the man on stage purporting to sign was an embarrassment.
‘It was horrible, an absolute circus, really, really bad,’ she said. ‘Only he can understand those gestures.’
Braam Jordaan, a deaf South African and board member of the World Deaf Federation, said he believes the interpreter was making up signs as he went along.
‘The structure of his hand, facial expressions and the body movements did not follow what the speaker was saying’, Mr Jordaan told the SBS news website. ‘I was really upset and humiliated’, he told the SBS news website, ‘He made up his own signs. ‘What happened at the memorial service is truly disgraceful thing to see – it should not happen at all. ‘What happened today will be forever aligned with Nelson Mandela & Deaf Community, thanks to this fake interpreter.’
Delphin Hlungwane, an official South African sign language interpreter with DeafSA, said authorities were trying to track the man down. She said: ‘There was zero percent accuracy. He couldn’t even get the basics right. He couldn’t even say thank you. ‘You’re supposed to indicate with your facial expressions, even if it’s not an exact sign. He didn’t indicate that (booing of Jacob Zuma) at all. It just passed him by. ‘Nobody knows who he is. Even at this hour we still don’t have his name.’
Asked about the claim by The Associated Press, South Africa’s government said it was preparing a statement.
Jackson Mthembu, spokesman for the governing African National Congress party, declined to comment. ‘Government will be able to assist you,’ Mthembu said.