Sign language interpreter at Mandela memorial a ‘fake’

Video still by PBS NewsHour

As millions watched the memorial for Nelson Mandela in South Africa on Tuesday, deaf viewers were outraged that they could not understand the interpreter positioned next to world leaders. Bruno Druchen, national director for the Deaf Federation of South Africa, said the interpreter was a “fake.”

The interpreter, who has not yet been identified, “was moving his hands around but there was no meaning in what he used his hands for,” Druchen told The Associated Press.

Alan Clendenning and Ray Faure of The Associated Press reported that “the man was not signing in South African or American sign languages and could not have been signing in any other known sign language because there was no structure to his arm and hand movements.”

Members of the deaf community around the world took to social media to express their anger. NBC’s Alexander Smith wrote that the first deaf woman elected to the South African Parliament, Wilma Newhoudt-Druchen tweeted, “Shame on this male so called interpreter on the stage. What is he signing? He knows that the deaf cannot vocally boo him off. Shame on him!”

The Deaf Federation of South Africa has filed a formal complaint to the African National Congress, which has not yet commented on the issue.