11 December 2013

South Africa: Mandela Memorial Sign Language Interpreter ' A Fake'

Johannesburg — The sign language interpreter at former president Nelson Mandela's memorial service was "a complete and utter fraud", Sign Language Education and Development in Cape Town said on Wednesday.

"If he values his life he must come clean, because the deaf community throughout the world are outraged," said director Cara Loening.

She said not one of his signs at the memorial at the FNB Stadium, in Soweto, on Tuesday, had anything to do with sign language.

"It was like getting somebody off the street and telling them to flap their hands around," said Loening.

"This man made a mockery of the service. How disrespectful for what Madiba stood for."

She said the interpreter, who was on the stage, had no clue about sign language.

"Deaf people had very, very little access to information from the memorial service."

Loening said sign language was a full and recognised language that would soon be taught in schools.

Another female interpreter in the SABC news wraps of the memorial was an accredited, qualified, and accurate sign language interpreter, Loening said.

Andries van Niekerk, spokesman for the National Institute for the Deaf (NID), said it was unacceptable.

"The interpreter at the service was clearly not competent and did not use hand shapes, movements, or facial expressions typical of South African sign language," he said.

"The NID is saddened that the deaf in attendance [at the service] could not understand what other great statesmen said about the legacy that the father of our nation leaves behind."

Van Niekerk said the deaf community was outraged.

"We are deeply concerned that whoever decided to employ this man as an interpreter, who has ruined the opportunity for the deaf to share in this final homage to a great leader, are making decisions that affect the lives of South African deaf people and causing embarrassment for the entire country."

Government spokeswoman Phumla Williams said she was unable to respond to the allegations immediately, as she did not know which department hired the man. She said she did not know about his qualifications or expertise.

"I can try and find out," she said.

Another person answered Williams's phone later and referred all queries to the media desk.

Another government spokeswoman Manusha Pillai said it was the first time they had heard of it.

"We need time to get to the bottom of this."

On Twitter on Tuesday, @FrancoisDeysel commented: "please can someone ask the interpreter to step down from stage, it is embarrassing and making a mockery of our profession".

Wilma Newhoudt-Druchen, vice-president of the World Federation of the Deaf and the first deaf member of South Africa's Parliament, tweeted on Tuesday: "Shame on this male so called interpreter on the stage. What is he signing? He knows that the deaf cannot vocally boo him off".

She tweeted that he was an embarrassment, that none of his signs made sense, and that he should be removed from the stage.

Mandela died at his home in Houghton, Johannesburg, on Thursday night at the age of 95.

His memorial service was attended by dignitaries and heads of state from around the world, including US president Barack Obama.

Mandela will be buried in Qunu, in the Eastern Cape, on Sunday.

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