For many UK-based Deaf viewers of the Nelson Mandela service yesterday, something didn’t seem quite right about the sign language interpreter (scroll down for video) who stood to the side of the various speakers, ‘interpreting’ what they were saying for the benefit of South Africa’s Deaf population.
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.
And, in one of the most bizarre Deaf stories of recent years, it appears that there really was something wrong – because, according to prominent Deaf South Africans on Twitter, the interpreter was “a fake.”
Which, if true, means that on a day when the world saluted a man who fought oppression, a guy stood on stage and effectively oppressed another minority – Deaf people, by making a mockery of our language.
During the service, rather than remembering Mandela, many South Africans (and others from around the world) who were either Deaf, or work with Deaf people, were expressing their outrage. Like Francois Deysel, a South African Sign Language trainer from Cape Town:
@BrunoDruchen please can someone ask the interpreter to step down from stage, it is embarrassing and making a mockery of our profession — Francois (@FrancoisDeysel) December 10, 2013
Or Wilma Nehoudt, Deaf Member of SA Parliament, World Federation of the Deaf Vice President and Deafsa National Vice Chairperson:
@ANC_KKhoza ANC linked interpreter on the stage with dep president of ANC is signing rubbish. He cannot sign. Please get him off — wilma newhoudt (@newhoudt) December 10, 2013
One of the first Brits to pick up on it was Deaf activist Alison Bryan, who tweeted:
Apparently the “interpreter” at the #MandelaMemorial is not even qualified and making up signs. Deaf people can’t understand him. — Alison Bryan (@Deaf) December 10, 2013
Apparently, a proper interpreter was in attendance, but that wasn’t the person we were seeing:
@EriksonYoung yes the lady on block on screen is an official accredited interpreter. Man on stage is not, he like just positioned himself — wilma newhoudt (@newhoudt) December 10, 2013
In further news, it appears he may have signed on stage before:
@charlie_swin @Deaf He also “interpreted” at the ANC Elective Conference in Mangaung last December. It is as if he came back with vengeance! — Braam Jordaan (@braamjordaan) December 10, 2013
Some questions come to mind: What possessed a man who supposedly can’t sign to get up there and pretend he can? Who was responsible for booking him? Does he know any sign language at all? Deaf people in South Africa will be looking for answers in the next few days. Above all I feel sorry for Deaf South Africans, who should have had amazing access to the service, with a top-class interpreter there on screen, but got this instead. – The Limping Chicken