December 12, 2013
Mandela Memorial Interpreter Blames Schizophrenia for Sign Language Failure
The sign language interpreter criticized by organizations for the deaf as giving "meaningless" signs during the memorial service for Nelson Mandela has blamed a schizophrenic episode for his performance.
Thamsanqa Jantjie told a Johannesburg newspaper, The Star, that he heard voices and hallucinated during Tuesday's service, which affected his ability to interpret the speeches by leaders such as U.S. President Barack Obama.
He said he was sorry, and that there was nothing he could do. He also told South Africa's Radio 702 on Thursday that he was happy with his work.
"Absolutely, what I've been doing, I think that I've been a champion of sign language as I've been saying that. You know, I've interpreted many big events, not only the event in question now."
South Africa's Deputy Minister of Women, Children and People with Disabilities, Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu said that the interpreter became overwhelmed and did not use normal signs.
She said Thursday there was a "clear indication" that the company that hired him has for years provided substandard services.
She also apologized to the deaf community, and said the issue highlights the challenges that deaf people around the world face every day in trying to communicate.
The head of the Deaf Federation of South Africa, Bruno Druchen, said the man's gestures were "self-invented signs" not used in South African sign language, and called the incident a "mockery of the language."
A joint statement from the World Federation of the Deaf and the World Association of Sign Language Interpreters also said the interpreter's actions showed he did not know the language. They stressed the need for the organizers of public events to ensure that the deaf are able to access information through trained, qualified interpreters.