Outcry over ‘fake’ sign language interpreter at Mandela memorial

2013-12-11 09:38

Deaf viewers of the Nelson Mandela memorial yesterday have taken to Twitter in anger, writing that the sign language interpreter on stage made absolutely no sense and accusing him of being fake.

The Limping Chicken, a leading UK news blog for the deaf, has slammed the interpreter and gathered the outraged tweets.

Although there are hundreds of sign language systems used, no one in the world seems to have been able to understand the one being used at the memorial at FNB Stadium yesterday.

“The ‘interpreter’ signed in a way I’ve never seen before,” writes the website’s editor, Charlie Swinbourne.

He describes the interpreter – who stood next to political leaders looking rather pleased with himself and yet grave at the same time – as making “a strange repetitive rhythm to his movements – his signs appearing to come in threes or fours, occasionally swinging his shoulders, as if he was signing along with an intermittent beat”. The biggest complaint from deaf viewers on Twitter is that the interpreter kept making the same movements despite what was being said. Deaf South Africans also poured scorn on the interpreter, who held centre stage despite an accurate interpreter being present. Tweeted @braamjordaan: “He also ‘interpreted’ at the ANC elective conference in Mangaung last December. It is as if he came back with vengeance!”

@FrancoisDeysel, a sign language trainer from Cape Town tweeted: “Please can someone ask the interpreter to step down from stage, it is embarrassing and making a mockery of our profession.” @BrunoDruchen tweeted: “Please get RID of this CLOWN interpreter, please!” Wilma Nehoudt (@newhoudt), a leading international deaf organiser and deaf member of South Africa’s Parliament, appealed desperately to ANC spokesperson Keith Khoza, tweeting: “ANC linked interpreter on the stage with dep president of ANC is signing rubbish. He cannot sign. Please get him off.”

When asked for comment, ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu told City Press that he wasn’t immediately aware of the problem. He said he didn’t know who picked the interpreter.

“It was a state-organised event,” he said, but promised to make inquiries to find out what had happened.

If it’s true that the interpreter was using a nonexistent language in his rhythmic hand choreography, then, says Swinbourne: “On a day when the world saluted a man who fought oppression, a guy stood on stage and effectively oppressed another minority – deaf people – by making a mockery of our language.”


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