Back | Blog Home

Mandela Memorial’s Fake Sign Language Interpreter


We all knew Nelson Mandela’s memorial service on Tuesday, Dec. 10 was going to be a sad affair. What we didn’t know was that the interpreter for the hearing impaired appointed by the South African government would be a fraud.

Throughout the ceremony, the interpreter — who has been identified as Thami Jantjie — stood by the side of several world leaders, including President Barack Obama, “translating.” But multiple advocates in the hearing impaired community have denounced him as fake.

Head of the Deaf Federation of South Africa, Bruno Peter Druchen, tweeted this out:

“Please get RID of this CLOWN interpreter, please!”

His wife, Wilma Newhoudt-Druchen, had similar thoughts:

“The so-called interpreter on the stage with Cde Cyril is not signing. He’s just making up. Get him out of TV sight.”

Funnily enough, a lot of people saw a second sign language interpreter superimposed on their TV screens – and the differences between the two were noticeable. Watch the video below to see:

While any kind of sign language is certainly hard to learn (even sign languages that seem pretty “organic” take time to learn!), almost anyone will notice that something seems off about the man’s signing. The movements are very messy, with almost close to no structure.

It’s really too bad for the hearing impaired individuals who came to watch the memorial service in person but couldn’t understand a single bit of the gibberish that came from the man’s hands. Perhaps one day, developers may invent an app —maybe a video app — that automatically translates speech into signs.

For now, though, many think that South Africa has embarrassed itself on the international stage — especially at an event hot on the heels of the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations trying to ratify a treaty for including people with disabilities.

According to U.S. Secret Service spokesperson Ed Donovan, the host organizing committee had been in charge of the interpreters. South African presidency ministers now state that authorities are currently investigating the allegations.

Currently, it is unclear as to how the man managed to be hired and then perform in front of not only the thousands of people who came in person to the memorial service but the millions around the globe who saw it live-streamed.

by Andrea Garcia Vargas

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *