Exclusive: ‘Fake’ sign language interpreter mars Nelson Mandela service for Deaf people worldwide

Posted on December 10, 2013

For many UK-based Deaf viewers of the Nelson Mandela service today, 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.

Screen shot 2013-12-10 at 19.59.12 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:

Or Wilma Nehoudt, Deaf Member of SA Parliament, World Federation of the Deaf Vice President and Deafsa National Vice Chairperson:

One of the first Brits to pick up on it was Deaf activist Alison Bryan, who tweeted:

Apparently, a proper interpreter was in attendance, but that wasn’t the person we were seeing:

In further news, it appears he may have signed on stage before:

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.

See also:

Check out our top blogs:

By Charlie Swinbourne, Editor (thelimpingchicken@gmail.com)

The Limping Chicken is the world's most popular Deaf blog, and is edited by Deaf journalist and filmmaker Charlie Swinbourne.  Find out how to write for us by clicking here, how to follow us by clicking here, and read our disclaimer here.

The site exists thanks to our supporters. Check them out below: