Reaction to alleged fake Mandela memorial interpreter

On Tuesday, the world mourned the passing of Nelson Mandela at a memorial service in South Africa.

Thousands gathered for the ceremony, and millions more looked on as the event was broadcast.

Not everyone may have been paying attention to the man on the side of world leaders as they spoke, seemingly interpreting, except for those who actually understand sign language.

"Not even one was correct," 23-year-old Jaida Butler signs. "Everything was made up."

Apparently Thamsanqa Jantjie, the man who interpreted speeches from leaders around the globe during the ceremony, is a fake - according to the Deaf Federation of South Africa.

Butler watched clips from the memorial from Warner Robins, thousands of miles away from Soweto, South Africa. But the outrage that shocked the deaf community there has traveled here as well.

"I knew it in a snap," Butler signs. "He had no movement of the body, he had no expression. Nothing connected with the speaker and his presentation. Phony."

Just a bunch of hand motions with little meaning.

Kitty LaFountain has been practicing and teaching American Sign Language for 40 years.

She says even though she can't understand South African Sign Language, what Jantjie was doing is an insult to those who interpret for the deaf.

"I can't even say he was interpreting," LaFountain says. "He was signing gibberish, and it wasn't even sign language as far as I'm concerned. I'm highly embarrassed and I hate that the word interpreter is being used in connection with this man."

Those who know sign language say Jantjie's lack of facial expression and the same repetitive gestures that didn't make sense were a dead giveaway that he was a fraud.

"Interpreters are required to have facial expression and be active with their body language. That person had no expression," 30-year-old John Maddox signs.

Maddox is vice president of the Middle Georgia Association of the Deaf.

Without that liaison to translate, Butler says a part of the population was excluded from a large-scale event.

"All the deaf community was left out. There was no respect for us at all," she signs.

Maddox agrees.

"The deaf are supposed to be equal with the hearing community, and no, it didn't happen."

Jantjie ells the Associated Press that he suffered a schizophrenic episode during the memorial service.

He said that, as a result of the episode, he was unable to hear and interpret well...but felt that, given the gravity of the situation, he couldn't leave.

He also apologized for the incident.

Follow 13WMAZ's Anita Oh on Twitter @anita_oh and on Facebook at Anita Oh WMAZ.


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