CLOSE

The Fake Interpreter at Nelson Mandela's Memorial Service

Thamsanqa Jantjie, the fake sign language interpreter who appeared at the leader Mandela's memeorial service, immediately caused outrage when he stood for hours "interpreting" next to global leaders on December 10, 2013.

Deaf people, especially of the South Africa, immediately responded by tweeting around, in attempt to tell the officials to stop Jantjie and at least to get him off the stage immediately.

Even some Deaf people, who speak their own native signed languages but didn't know South African SL, could tell that Jantjie made gibberish, nonsensical, non-linguistic gestures. Yet, Jantjie still stood for hours alongside global leaders interpreting like a buffoon.

Hundreds of millions of people around the world watched Jantjie flapping hands around the speeches of Obama and other world leaders. Jantjie couldn't even translate the basic words such as "Nelson Mandela".

He grabbed worldwide headlines.

Though the same guy had been interpreting for high-level speeches and conferences prior to Mandela which provoked many official complaints from the Deaf Federation of South Africa and Deaf activists, the South African government apparently ignored until the big moment which caused a massive embarrassment.

Jantjie was never a recognized professional interpreter in the country. “He is not known by the deaf community in South Africa nor by the South African Sign Language interpreters working in the field,” said a statement by the Deaf Federation of South Africa.

The fake interpreter in South Africa

This raised some concerns from national security to ethics in sign language interpretation profession. There was clearly a loophole in security where world leaders made their presence at the memorial. Jantjie later was found that previously he was admittted to psychiatric hospital that he suffered schizophrenic episodes and heard angel voices.

In addition, he had a history of violent offenses. He was charged with a mob that burned a man to death in 2003 but he had never faced trial due to his mental unfit. He also had been charged with other offenses before that.

However, unlike ephemeral security issue, underqualified or non-qualified interpretation in educational settings and such has been around for a long time. For example, school administrators hire signers to "interpret" just because they know some sign language. Signed language is no easier than spoken language and it's not something to be taken lightly. It's as complex and natural as spoken language. Professional certified, trained interpreters are required for the positions in educational, legal, and such settings.

Fake and Real interpreters
Source: public domain.

Quite contrastly, within the very same week, an entertaining video of a five-year-old KODA (kid of deaf adults) enthusiastically signing Christmas songs in American Sign Language (ASL), went viral.

There is even a language play found in this child's signing.