Controversy Over Mandela Memorial Sign Language Interpreter
The National Post reports, “A man who provided sign language interpretation on stage for Nelson Mandela’s memorial service, attended by scores of heads of state, was a “fake,” the national director of the Deaf Federation of South Africa said on Tuesday.
The scandal over the interpreter is another indication of bad organization of the historic memorial service at a huge soccer stadium. Other difficulties included public transportation breakdowns which hindered mourners from getting to the event and a faulty audio system that prevented many of the tens of thousands in the stadium from hearing the leaders’ speeches. In an apparent security failure, police did not search the first wave of crowds arriving at the stadium.
The unidentified man seen around the world on television next to leaders including United States President Barack Obama “was moving his hands around but there was no meaning in what he used his hands for,” Bruno Druchen, the federation’s national director, told The Associated Press.
South Africa’s government told AP it was preparing a statement. Jackson Mthembu, spokesman for the governing African National Congress party, declined to comment. “Government will be able to assist you,” Mthembu said but hours later no statement had been issued.
Druchen and three other sign language experts said the man was not signing in South African or American sign languages and could not have been signing in any other known sign language because there was no structure to his arm and hand movements. South African sign language covers all of the country’s 11 official languages, according to the federation.
Ingrid Parkin, principal of the St. Vincent School for the Deaf in Johannesburg, said she’s received complaints from the deaf community from Canada to China about the man on stage and that his movements look “like he’s signing gibberish.” He also used no facial expression to convey the emotions of the leaders, a key element of sign language interpretation.
“This man himself knows he cannot sign and he had the guts to stand on an international stage and do that,” Parkin said.
Nicole Du Toit, an official sign language interpreter who also watched the broadcast, said in a telephone interview that the man on stage purporting to sign was an embarrassment.”