The deaf community in South Africa is outraged and embarrassed after realizing that man who was signing translations of Nelson Mandela's memorial to the whole entire world yesterday was actually a fraud.
Hearing-impaired watchers of the event reported on social media that the interpreter beside the U.S. president was using gestures that were either made up or so obscure as to be incomprehensible for most actual sign language users. The Age reports that Braam Jordaan, a board member of the World Federation of the Deaf Youth Section said the language the interpreter used was definitely fake: "The structure of his hand, facial expressions and the body movements did not follow what the speaker was saying." Deaf member of parliament Wilma Newhoudt-Druchen tweeted at the African National Council (ANC) during the event, and has continued the conversation via Twitter since:
British deaf news and blog The Limping Chicken pointed out the interpreter's bogus translation:
The ‘interpreter’ signed in a way I’ve never seen before, a strange repetitive rhythm to his movements – his signs appearing to come in threes or fours, occasionally swinging his shoulders, as if he was signing along with an intermittent beat. Most puzzlingly, the structure of his hand and body movements didn’t seem to change no matter what the speaker was saying.
The blog referred to the following video as an example of the interpreter's bizarre interpretation of the words of ANC Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa. You can see an actual interpreter translating Ramaphosa's speech on the bottom left of the video:
Jordaan told the BBC that he had seen the ANC interpreter speak before, translating South African President Jacob Zuma's speech during the centenary celebration, but that this is the first time a public outcry has followed such an incident. "He's not a professional interpreter," he said, adding, "he's only making up signs."
The BBC speaks with Jordaan about the fake interpretation of Obama's speech
According to the Associated Press, the South African government is preparing a statement in response to the allegations.
It's just one more controversy for a ceremony that seemed to be more about the attendees than the man being honored. President Obama was center stage during yesterday's memorial service for Nelson Mandela, and gave a rousing speech, yet all anyone could talk about was him shaking hands with long-time enemy Raul Castro, taking a (disputed) selfie with other dignitaries in the bleachers, and allegedly irritating the first lady with said selfie.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.