Hunt on for fake 'signer' who stood metres from Obama

2013-12-11 16:51
US President Barack Obama stands to who has been outed as a fake “interpreter” during Nelson Mandela's memorial service in Soweto. (Matt Dunham, AP)

US President Barack Obama stands to who has been outed as a fake “interpreter” during Nelson Mandela's memorial service in Soweto. (Matt Dunham, AP)

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Johannesburg - The hunt is on for the fake sign language interpreter who took to the stage during the memorial for former president Nelson Mandela on Tuesday, gesticulating gibberish before a global audience of millions and outraging deaf people across the world. 

While dignitaries were addressing the crowd in the 95 000-seat FNB stadium, the young, suited man stood within metres of US President Barack Obama. He had an official security pass round his neck, but no-one seems to know who he is, raising serious security questions.

"He was basically gesturing. He didn't follow any of the grammatical rules and structure of the language. He just invented his signs as he went along," said Delphin Hlungwane, an official South African sign language interpreter at DeafSA.

"There was zero percent accuracy. He couldn't even get the basics right. He couldn't even say thank you," she said. 

Minister in the Presidency Collins Chabane said the government, which was officially in charge of Tuesday's ceremony. is investigating the matter, but has not finished yet because it has been overwhelmed with work preparing for Mandela's funeral on Sunday in Qunu.

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, who faces an election in less than six months.

"You're supposed to indicate with your facial expressions, even if it's not an exact sign," she said. "He didn't indicate that at all. It just passed him by."

"He was moving his hands around, but there was no meaning in what he used his hands for," Wilma Newhoudt-Druchen, vice president of the World Federation of the Deaf, told AP.

Four sign language experts, including Druchen, said the man was not signing in South African or American sign languages and could not have been signing in any other known sign language because there was no structure to his arm and hand movements.

Complained to ANC

The man also did sign interpretation at an event last year that was attended by President Jacob Zuma.

At that appearance, a deaf person in the audience videotaped the event and gave it to the federation, which analysed the video, prepared a report about it and a submitted a formal complaint to the ANC, Druchen said.

In their complaint, the federation suggested that the man should take the five years of training needed to become a qualified sign language interpreter in South Africa. But the ANC never responded, Druchen said.

Druchen said a fresh complaint will be filed to the ANC about the interpreter he called a "fake" with a demand for an urgent meeting.

The ANC professed no knowledge of the man.

"I don't know this guy. He doesn't work for the ANC. It was a government event. Ask them," spokesperson Jackson Mthembu said.

Read more on:    nelson mandela  |  johannesburg
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