DeafSA warned ANC about dodgy interpreter

2013-12-11 14:55

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The ‘fake’ sign language interpreter at the Madiba memorial did not even know the recognised sign for South Africa, writes Charl du Plessis

The Mandela memorial’s “fake” sign language interpreter is the same interpreter about whom the deaf community had complained to the ANC as early as mid-2012.

The interpreter made international headlines today, after the deaf community across the world expressed outrage at the fake sign language he had used at the memorial service for former president Nelson Mandela yesterday.

The image of the man “interpreting” speeches at the memorial was beamed across the world and international members of the deaf community realised that the man’s sign language was meaningless.

Martie Miranda, a sign language instructor at the University of the Free State’s unit for students with disabilities, said the use of a fake sign language interpreter had the effect of again marginalising the deaf community and was “contrary to everything Mandela fought for”.

Wilma Newhoudt-Druchen, the vice-chairperson of the Deaf Federation of SA (DeafSA), confirmed to City Press that the DeafSA had submitted a report about the fake interpreter to the party.

This followed a complaint from a member of the deaf community in mid-2012 about the man’s interpretation of a speech made by President Jacob Zuma.

DeafSA has to date received no response from the party.

“When a deaf person complains, nobody listens,” said Newhoudt-Druchen.

A press statement issued by DeafSA said that the fake interpreter had “made a mockery of South African Sign Language and has disgraced the South African Sign Language interpreting profession”.

Bruno Druchen, the national director of DeafSA, said that the man “was not in fact a recognised, professional South African sign language interpreter.

“He is not known in the deaf community in South Africa nor by the SA Sign Language interpreters working in the field.”

Druchen said that the interpreter yesterday did not use facial expressions, which was an important part of South African sign language.

He also used none of the established recognised signs for Madiba, South Africa, President Jacob Zuma or former president Thabo Mbeki.

Miranda told City Press that the fake interpreter was a person “just moving his arms and hands with no meaning, no structure and no facial expression”.

“He did our profession harm, we try very hard to get our profession recognised and one person goes on an international stage, at such a big event where deaf people right across the world can see that this guy does not know what he is doing.”

Miranda said a phone call to DeafSA would have prevented the spectacle.

A spokesperson for the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) said that it was aware of the controversy and would be releasing a press statement shortly.

ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu did not answer his phone or respond to an SMS.

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