Mandela Sign-Language Interpreter Made Stuff Up

Deaf community outraged

By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff

Posted Dec 11, 2013 8:24 AM CST

(Newser) – The sign-language interpreter at Nelson Mandela's memorial service yesterday wasn't actually signing what the speakers on stage were saying, according to many members of the deaf community. As the service was live-streamed, Wilma Newhoudt-Druchen (the first deaf woman elected to South Africa's Parliament) tweeted, "ANC linked interpreter cannot sign at all, he's making up signs. Please get him off," The Age reports. She later added: "What is he signing? He knows that the deaf cannot vocally boo him off. Shame on him!"

And those complaints were echoed by many others—in both traditional and social media—who called the man a "fake" and a "charlatan" and accused him of simply making up signs. One fellow interpreter accused him of "making a mockery of our profession," and the national director of the Deaf Federation of South Africa called him a "clown." The South African government is preparing a statement on the matter, USA Today reports. The AP adds that it's one of a number of issues that plagued the memorial service: Faulty public transport hindered mourners from getting to the event, and a faulty audio system prevented many of the tens of thousands present from hearing the leaders' speeches.

President Barack Obama waves standing next to the sign language interpreter at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela at the FNB Stadium in Soweto near Johannesburg, Dec. 10, 2013.
President Barack Obama waves standing next to the sign language interpreter at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela at the FNB Stadium in Soweto near Johannesburg, Dec. 10, 2013.   (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
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Multiple sign language experts who saw the broadcast agree—the man wasn't signing anything at all. As one expert put it, he was just "flapping his arms around."   (Newsy)
The "interpreter" at work.   (YouTube)

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