A Sign of the Times

Many years ago, I used to commute to work by municipal bus. In those days the Pretoria buses were still roadworthy, on time, and the drivers had valid driver’s licenses. (Yes, Sakkie, I know that it was a LONG time ago!)

I was always fascinated by two deaf guys who also used the bus. They would constantly talk to one another in sign language, from the moment they boarded the bus, till the time they stepped off.

And animated! Using facial expressions, clapping of the hands, vocal sounds, body movements and hand shapes – with fingers flashing at the speed of light – they talked and argued about everything under the sun. Always smiling and laughing; they were in sharp contrast with the rest of the passengers (mostly government workers), who all looked as if they were on their way to a funeral.

I forget the one guy’s name now, but the other one was called Charl. (I saw it on his nametag, Sakkie.) At one stage I started learning to sign – not as difficult as one would imagine. But I was such a slow signer; I usually had to wake Charl quite a few times while I was signing: “Hello, how are you?”

I would pretend to read a book, while in fact, I was watching Charl and his mate, who always shared a seat, signing away like mad. Charl was a real motormouth (sorry, motorhand), while his pal battled to get a word in edgewise. Sometimes, out of pure frustration, the friend would grab Charl’s hands and pin them down on his lap – and then sign madly with his free hand – much like holding a hand over someone’s mouth, when the person doesn’t stop chattering, to give you a chance to say something.

This brings me to our famous (notorious?) interpreter, Thamsanqa Jantjie. I’m not going to add anything to what has already been said about Mr. Jantjie’s performance at the circus – suffice to say that I enjoyed his act. He made more sense than Obama and the rest of the clowns, put together.

Jantjie reminded me of the old Westerns – when cowboy and Indian would start off their pow-wow with the question: “How?” This would be followed by hand gestures which were fairly easy to understand. The movie audience never really cared what they were saying; as long as the cowboys won the fight in the end.

But that’s not important right now.

Thamsanqa Jantjie (who admits that he is receiving treatment for schizophrenia), had previously worked as a court interpreter in Boksburg. This makes Jantjie an Indian of another colour altogether. (Boksburg, Sakkie, is like an Indian reservation for white people – lots of problems with alcoholism, domestic violence, teen pregnancies, unemployment, and poverty – a modern *Boeregemeenskap.)

Imagine a court case, with Jantjie as the interpreter, where a deaf person is on trial for shooting off fireworks during the Guy Fawkes celebrations.

Prosecutor: You are charged with disturbing the peace and unlawfully discharging fireworks in a residential area without a permit.

Jantjie signs: He says you passed wind in public.

Deaf Guy signs: I did not!

Jantjie says: He pleads not guilty.

Prosecutor: The noise traumatized the dogs and cats in the neighbourhood.

Jantjie signs: Your loud farting scared the neighbours.

Deaf Guy signs: My neighbours are also deaf, and they weren’t even at home at the time!

Jantjie says: He says that his farting didn’t make the neighbours deaf.

Prosecutor: The fine is thirty days or ten thousand Rand.

Jantjie signs: That’s fine. The bribe is twenty thousand Rand.

Deaf Guy signs: Tell him to get stuffed!

Jantjie says: He says you should visit a taxidermist.

Judge: That’s contempt of court! Lock him up!

Jantjie signs: The judge says you are free to go.

Deaf Guy: OK, then. No hard feelings.

The courtroom erupts with booing and jeers!

Judge: The court will come to order! The court will come to order!

Jantjie signs: He says you must order a KFC Streetwise Feast (8-piece), and a Variety Bucket with chips.

Deaf Guy: What! For farting? Stuff him again!

And so on. And so forth. And all, and all.

The End

To me, Thamsanqa Jantjie will forever be up there with the best of the South African stand up comedians: Ras Dumisani, Mac Maharaj, Julius Malema, the King of Nkandla, and Moe Masedi.

Viva, the ANC Clowns! Viva!

*Boeregemeenskap – like Orania and Kleinfontein   

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