Stunning Allegation About Sign Language Interpreter on Stage During Mandela Memorial: He’s a ‘Fake’

JOHANNESBURG (TheBlaze/AP) — 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 said on Tuesday.

sign language interpreter
President Barack Obama delivers his speech next to a sign language interpreter during a memorial service at FNB Stadium in honor of Nelson Mandela on Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013 in Soweto, near Johannesburg. (AP/ Evan Vucci)

Asked about the claim by The Associated Press, South Africa’s government said it was preparing a statement.

Three 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. It wasn’t immediately clear if the unidentified man was using a different method to communicate.

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

The national director of the Deaf Federation of South Africa said the sign language interpreter at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service was a “fake.” (PEDRO UGARTE/AFP/Getty Images)

Watch WCVB-TV’s report for footage of the interpreter:

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.”

Braam Jordaan, a deaf South African citizen and board member of the World Federation of the Deaf Youth Section (WDF), told the South African Press Association that the interpreter’s hand movements and facial expressions did not match the speaker’s words.

South Africa Mandela Interpreter
AP/Matt Dunham

“I was really upset and humiliated by the mystery interpreter who was supposed to be signing what Barack Obama, the president of United States of America was saying… He made up his own signs,” Jordaan said.

“He is a complete and utter fraud,” Sign Language Education and Development Director Cara Loening also told the press association.

Many on Twitter called out the phony interpretation as well, including South African parliament member Wilma Newhoudt, a member of the ruling party who is deaf.

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It’s also not the first time the interpreter has been used for events. This video from 2012 was called up on Twitter:

He’s not to be confused with another interpreter many watching online saw. Some might have noticed a female sign language interpreter in an inset box was signing in a completely different manner than the man on stage.

sign language interpreter woman
Image source: Daily Mail

The U.K.’s Daily Mail identified her as the “official” interpreter and some on Twitter also said she signed correctly.

AP interviewed both Druchen, who also is deaf, and Newhoudt by telephone using an interpreter.