Thamsanqa “Bompi” Jantjie, the fake sign language interpreter, is us and we are him.
He is a perfect metaphor for what our country and society is, like a mirror reflecting back on us, and we don’t like what we see.
Many will ask indignantly: why defile the memory of the great Nelson Mandela with this staggering incompetence? Why procure the services of a man suffering from schizophrenia who clearly has no grasp of the task at hand? Many have already noted how Bompi has turned our nation into a global laughing stock. But we must return to the mirror.
There is now consensus that Jantjie’s interpretation for the duration of the memorial service was meaningless. He also broke all protocols and ethics sign language practitioners are expected to observe. But this was not his first gig; he had been there before and believes himself to be a “champion of sign language”.
Jantjie appears to be delusional, with an amazing capacity to delude others too.
This is, after all, South Africa, a country that seems to be built on a fairy tale – an enduring lie in which all believe.
Jantjie’s fong-kong signing tells us something about the fake ideals we hold dear as a people. We are a nation that believes in the dignity and equality of all, and this is enshrined in our Constitution. However, in reality, South Africa is the number one country in the world when it comes to inequality.
Millions of South Africans live in shockingly squalid conditions without hope of escaping from the indignity of poverty. To keep them alive, we throw grants at them. We proclaim to be one thing, but in reality we are another.
We are a country which, like Jantjie’s self-declared skills, takes pride in being champions of the world when it comes to social cohesion and working through conflict. The model that ostensibly ended apartheid, that of dialogue and compromise, has been exported globally. The truth is that the only social cohesion we experience is at big rugby matches when blacks are allowed to pretend that we are one nation united in all important matters.
After the game, we all return to our respective segregated lives marked by racialised differences, poverty for blacks on the one hand and wealth for whites on the other. Our unity is as fake as “Bompi’s” signing.
Jantjie says he heard voices and saw angels. This brings to mind a tender consortium at work. If you are lucky enough to be among the group of blacks working to apply for a tender, you could think you were hearing voices and communicating with the other world. The determination to win the tender defies any rational consideration.
Faces suggest a trance, as though voices are imploring them insistently to “go on, go on, there is a whole Eldorado waiting for you at the end of the rainbow”.
Perhaps the biggest lesson here is the belief that we are a democracy, and therefore governed by the Athenian adage that democracy is “the rule of the people for the people by the people”.
This idea suggests that every five years when we vote we are exercising this right of self-rule through delegation of our powers as citizens. Like Jantjie’s spirited, albeit meaningless, flapping of hands, the truth is simply that our democracy is not about people’s power but about surrendering power to 400 parliamentarians who are permitted, by laws they have made, not to listen to about 50 million of us.
That’s what makes such reprehensible laws as the e-tolls possible. Basically, democracy is meaningless; it’s a mere empty performance.
“Bompi” is a self-declared schizophrenic; the memorial service itself displayed many schizophrenic moments. A few years ago we booed Thabo Mbeki in Polokwane and cheered Jacob Zuma – now we are cheering Mbeki and booing Zuma. Ironically, the last president of apartheid and a man accused of atrocities and war crimes, FW de Klerk, gets an approving applause from those who still suffer from the legacy of apartheid.
That we have lost all coordinates was demonstrated in the cheering of the imperialist Barack “Mr Drones” Obama, and with equal approval, we cheer the anti-imperialist, Robert Mugabe. Confusion reigns.
We are a deluded nation, believing ourselves to be that which we are not. We wallow in deep incompetence and the state can be said to be on autopilot, with the head of state being a man at sea about the affairs and interests of his nation.
We watch with disbelief the scurrying around the president by ministers of the security cluster as they explain Nkandlagate. Like our mirror, Thamsanqa Jantjie, we are “alone in a dangerous situation”, seeing visions and hearing voices.
We need to extricate ourselves from this cloud of delusion and save ourselves and the country.
Like Jantjie, we need help – and urgently.