Israeli company uses Madiba memorial sign language interpreter in bizarre new ad

By Kirstin Buick
09 May 2014

It looks as if Thamsanqa Jantjie's abysmal sign language interpreting at Madiba's memorial service has made him a familiar face all over the world - so much so that an Israeli start-up has made his the face of their brand.

Okay, so he embarrassed us on a global scale but that doesn't mean the fake interpreter who made headlines around the world after a poor sign language performance at Madiba's funeral should be made fun of in this way.

An Israeli company were so desperate to have infamous sign language interpreter Thamsanqa Jantjie feature in their advert that they snuck him out of a psychiatric hospital to do it.

CEO of the company Livelens -- which is basically an app that allows users to stream live video to various social media -- Max Bluvband explains why: "We decided that the guy who had the worst live show ever would be the best person [for this advert]". Jantjie stirred up a storm at Nelson Mandela's memorial service last year, after it emerged he had been signing nonsense. He blamed the incident on schizophrenia and was admitted to Sterkfontein for treatment, where he had been since late December. Livelens managed to get a Zulu-speaking journalist to visit Sterkfontein in February and convince officials that Jantjie needed to let out for one day for a "family event."

'At the end of the day, a schizophrenic guy got paid and did a nice campaign'

"We helped him get on the right track," marketing manager Sefi Shaked told NBC News. "At the end of the day, a schizophrenic guy got paid and did a nice campaign ... We see it as sort of a sad story with a happy ending." Except that the advert may be even more embarrassing for Jantjie than the debacle at Madiba's memorial.  "Believe me, I am a real professional sign language interpreter," he says awkwardly while signing at the outset. A sultry woman's voice then interprets what he's really signing - "I speak sign language -- not." Despite the backlash from the mental illness and deaf communties that their advert has caused, Livelens stand by their decision. "We saw him with our own eyes; he's a normal guy," Shaked said. "Now he can have the closure and earn some money from it. It’s morally right." Someone bring us Oscar's green bucket! Livelens wouldn't say how much they paid Jantjie. 


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