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South Africa Investigating Mandela Sign Interpreter

  • Mike Richman

South Africa's government says it is investigating the alleged incorrect use of sign language at a ceremony honoring late President Nelson Mandela. The country's top association for the deaf has called the interpreter a fake. The man in question, Thamsanqa Jantjie, has blamed a schizophrenic episode for his performance.

Questions are flying about the sign interpreter who was on stage at Nelson Mandela's memorial service in Johannesburg on Tuesday.

Sign language experts say while dignitaries and guests delivered their eulogies and others listened, the man used hand signals that meant nothing.

The Deaf Federation of South Africa has condemned the presence of the man.

"He got many things wrong," explained Delphin Hlungwane, spokeswoman for Deaf Federation of South Africa. "Actually he has zero percent accuracy. If you do a comparison of what was said and what he was signing, zero percent accuracy.''

More than 60,000 people attended the memorial service at Johannesburg's main sports stadium and millions more watched on TV.

They saw an interpreter who critics say was not qualified to be there, with one labeling him a "complete fraud."

One South African sign interpreter called it an embarrassing moment.

"When I saw this, I actually felt very upset, and I felt I wanted to go to the event and chase the interpreter off the stage," said South African sign interpreter, trainer Abraham Maripan. "The memorial service of Madiba [Nelson Mandela] is such an important event, and we feel embarrassed and the whole world was looking at us, and it's serious.

There has been speculation the sign interpreter used a different African language. But the Deaf Federation of South Africa said that is impossible.
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