Sign language interpreter at Mandela ceremony exposed as a ‘fake’

Sign language interpreter at Mandela ceremony exposed as a ‘fake’

Sign language exposed as fakeThis is a story that hits very close to home for me, as my wife does sign language and went through hell getting trained to be proficient in it.

On Tuesday, the Associated Press reported the man who was supposed to be interpreting the speeches at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela for the hearing-impaired was a fake, moving his hands and arms, but saying nothing.

“It was horrible, an absolute circus, really bad,” said Nicole Du Toit, an official sign language interpreter who watched the broadcast.  “Only he can understand those gestures.”

Bruno Druchen, national director of the Deaf Federation of South Africa, told the AP the man “was moving his hands around but there was no meaning in what he used his hands for.”

Four experts, including Druchen, said 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, the AP added.  South African parliament member Wilma Newhoudt, a member of the ruling party who is deaf, echoed those concerns.

According to the federation, South African sign language covers the 11 official languages spoken in the country.

It’s not the first time the unidentified man was used to provide interpretation services for the hearing-impaired, the AP said.

Last year, he was videotaped interpreting a speech attended by South African President Jacob Zuma, Druchen said.  After that performance, a formal complaint was filed with the ANC.

The federation suggested he take the five-year training required to become a qualified interpreter, but the ANC never responded.

A fresh complaint will be filed with the ANC, Druchen said.

“We want to make a statement that this is a warning to other sign language interpreters who are fake and go about interpreting,” Druchen told the AP. “I am hoping the South African government will take notice of this.”

Part of the problem is that people who know very few signs get hired by people who don’t know sign language, said Ingrid Parkin, principal of the St. Vincent School for the Deaf in Johannesburg, who said she received complaints from around the globe.

“They advertise themselves as interpreters because they know 10 signs and they can make some quick money,” Parkin said. “It is plain and simple abuse of the deaf community, they are taking advantage of the deaf community to make money.”

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



If you like this article, you can follow Joe on Twitter @jnewby1956, or visit and join his Facebook page.

Joe Newby

Joe Newby

Joe Newby is an IT professional. He has written for Conservative Firing Line, Examiner, NewsBusters, and Spokane Faith and Values.


For your convenience, you may leave commments below using Disqus. If Disqus is not appearing for you, please disable AdBlock to leave a comment.