‘Fake’ interpreter: I am a champion of sign language

2013-12-12 09:31

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The controversial sign language interpreter who became a viral sensation after his inept display at Nelson Mandela’s memorial, has been identified as 34-year-old Thamsanqa Jantjie.

He was interviewed by John Robbie on Talk Radio 702 this morning, two days after deaf viewers around the world took to Twitter to vent that he was “fake” and tweeting gibberish in an unrecognised sign language.


The Deaf Federation of SA (DeafSA) yesterday told City Press they had officially complained to the ruling party as far back as a year and a half ago about Jantjie’s interpreting at ANC events.

Asked by the radio host how he feels about being the centre of an international storm, Jantjie said: “It’s very sad at this present moment because I believe the issue should have been dealt with earlier ... if Deaf South Africa had an issue with my interpreting ... not during this crucial time in our country.”

Jantjie, who claims to work for a company called SA Interpreters, said he had been interpreting for years, “and if I was interpreting wrong why should it become an issue now?”

“Absolutely! Absolutely!” exclaimed Jantjie when Robbie asked him if he was happy with his memorial performance.

“I think that I’ve been a champion of sign language. I’ve interpreted at many big events, including Ma [Albertina] Sisulu’s funeral.”

Robbie then asked about an article in The Star today which reports that Jantjie has suffered from bouts of schizophrenia and in fact had an “attack” on stage at the memorial.

“Suddenly he lost concentration, and started hearing voices and hallucinating. Afterwards, it all went downhill and he just signed things that didn’t make sense,” reads the report.

On Robbie’s show, Jantjie confirmed the report but said he was uncomfortable talking about his mental health. What he wanted to talk about is “the issue that I’ve interpreted wrong”.

He said he has a formal qualification in sign language interpretation.

Callers on the show did not agree that he was a champion of sign language. In fact, another interpreter interviewed said he had committed “crimes against the humanity of deaf people” and that his memorial performance “bordered on mime”.

While deaf people around the world used the controversy to advocate for respect for their language, the internet also responded with great mirth.

Gif: Huffington Post

Gifs appeared online and a spoof Twitter handle @MemorialSigner sprung up almost at once. Memorial Signer’s biography absurdly reads: “Fish rabbit car park. Telephone telephone. Sellotape. Pine tree tissues.”


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