Was Barack Obama's deaf interpreter at Nelson Mandela memorial a 'fake'?

Published: 11 December, 2013 22:40 IST | AP |

The sign language interpreter used at Tuesday's Nelson Mandela's memorial service, and who shared the stage with world leaders including US President, was branded a 'fake' by the Deaf Federation of South Africa.

 A man who provided sign language interpretation on stage for Nelson Mandela's memorial service, attended by scores of heads of state, was a "fake," the national director of the Deaf Federation of South Africa has said.

The unidentified man seen around the world on television next to leaders like US President Barack Obama "was moving his hands around but there was no meaning in what he used his hands for," Bruno Druchen, the federation's national director, said yesterday.

US President Obama
US President Barack Obama delivers a speech next to a sign language interpreter (R) during the memorial service for late South African President Nelson Mandela at Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg. South Africa's deaf community on December 11, 2013 accused the sign language interpreter at Nelson Mandela's memorial of being a fake, who had merely flapped his arms around during speeches. Pic/AFP 

South Africa's government said it is preparing a statement. Jackson Mthembu, spokesman for the governing African National Congress party, declined to comment.

"Government will be able to assist you," Mthembu said.

Druchen and two other sign language experts said the man was not signing in South African or American sign languages. South African sign language covers all of the country's 11 official languages, according to the federation. 

Nicole Du Toit, an official sign language interpreter who also watched the broadcast, said in a telephone interview that the man on stage purporting to sign was an embarrassment.

"It was horrible, an absolute circus, really, really bad," she said. "Only he can understand those gestures."

South African parliament member Wilma Newhoudt-Druchen, a member of the ruling party who is deaf and who is married to Druchen, also said the man communicated nothing with his hand and arm movements. AP interviewed both Druchen, who also is deaf, and Newhoudt-Druchen by telephone using an interpreter. 

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