'Fake interpreter' was overwhelmed by English, says deputy minister

2013-12-12 15:13

South Africans should not be embarrassed by the inept sign language interpretation provided by Thamsanqa Jantjie at former president Nelson Mandela’s memorial service, Deputy Minister of Women, Children and People with Disabilities, Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu has said.

She says Jantjie was tired and overwhelmed by English, which is not his mother tongue.

“He has interpreted to deaf people in court before and is able to communicate with his deaf friends very well. It’s just that (on that day) he did not sign what was expected of him,” Bogopane-Zulu.

The deputy minister said that she was not defending Jantjie whose “fake” sign language interpretation went viral after the deaf community raised the alarm about his translation, which did not make sense.


She said she was trying to prevent a personal attack on the man.

“Yes, a mistake happened but we should not say that he is a fake interpreter because he does have a basic sign language translation qualification. He started off very well and got tired in the process.”

“He was not a bad interpreter,” she said.

Bogopane-Zulu refused to be drawn into a debate about whether Jantjie had posed a danger to high profile dignitaries in close proximity to him because he suffered from schizophrenia.

She said none of the service providers at the stadium or even journalist were asked for their health profiles suggesting that many could have been suffering from mental conditions which they didn’t disclose.

Jantjie told Talk Radio 702 this morning that he had had a schizophrenic episode, which may have interfered with his translation.


Asked if government or the ANC would consider hiring Jantjie to translate for deaf people in their events in future, Bogopane-Zulu could not give a concrete answer.

She said: “That is not up to the department to decide on whether he will be used as the sign interpreter or not in future.”

Meanwhile, the two owners of SA interpreters, the company that had contracted Jantjie, have gone to ground.

Bogopane-Zulu told the media at the SABC offices this afternoon that the two women had vanished.

“We have established that they have been cheating the system all along by providing substandard sign language interpretation. The Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (Cipro) is currently assisting us to track them down,” she said

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