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Hunt for mysterious interpreter who faked sign language at Mandela memorial

Published time: December 11, 2013 21:06
Edited time: December 12, 2013 08:24
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.(AFP Photo / Alexander Joe)

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.(AFP Photo / Alexander Joe)

South Africa is searching for a sign language interpreter who failed to translate what world leaders said at the memorial of anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela on Tuesday. Outraged by the incident, the deaf community has confirmed the man was a fake.

The unidentified man, who had a security pass, stood next to world leaders as they addressed the crowd in the 95,000-seat Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg. Millions saw the fake interpreter gesticulate pure gibberish during the broadcast of the event, which was televised across the globe.

"There was zero percent accuracy. He couldn't even get the basics right. He couldn't even say thank you," Delphin Hlungwane, a South African sign language interpreter at DeafSA, told Reuters. DeafSA has condemned the incident.

The global deaf community has grown outraged at the incident, which saw the man seemingly inventing hand gestures as he went along.

The South African government is searching for the fraud. Although the government was officially in charge of the ceremony, the man’s identity remains a mystery.

The ruling African National Congress (ANC) also seems to have no details about the mystery interpreter, although television footage from a party congress last year appears to show the same man gesticulating on stage alongside South African President Zuma, AP reported.

The event - which looked more like a festival than a memorial, due to South Africa’s tradition of celebrating the life of the deceased – was also marred by several other incidents.

First, boos and jeers were heard from the audience during the South African president’s commemoration speech.

Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama was caught snapping a selfie with British Prime Minister David Cameron and Danish premier Helle Thorning-Schmidt. The image of the three leaders, all huddled together with Thorning-Schmidt in the middle, has been trending on Twitter under the hashtag #ObamaSelfie since Tuesday.

In yet another development, retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu's home was robbed while the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and anti-apartheid activist spoke at the memorial service.

On Tuesday, South Africa began parting with its first black president, who dedicated his life to ending apartheid. The leader will be buried at his rural home in Qunu on Sunday. Mandela died at his Johannesburg home on Friday, at the age of 95. He had been plagued by poor health, suffering from a lung infection and severe stomach, prostate, and eye problems.

Comments (52)


Mike Smithy 17.12.2013 00:49

Considering the fact that the sign language fraudster has pulled this stunt before and went unnoticed speaks volumes as to unnecessary and irrelevant sign language interpreters are. I for one am annoyed that nearly every political speech and graduation has this annoyance. Please give it a rest. I believe the hearing impared crowd would be better served with a closed captioning monitor.


Angelo Jamaica 16.12.2013 03:32

He could have been signing for the Zulu people, who knows.


Katia Leitao 13.12.2013 17:05

Their message is highly corrosive of the actual current affairs scenes, which he plants himself into ridiculing the best security systems, appearing to expose important people from strangers, when in fact there are strangers being threatened by the dangerous, important person, whose security is being catered for.

View all comments (52)
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