The sign language interpreter used at Nelson Mandela's memorial service yesterday in Johannesburg was a fraud who was "literally flapping his arms around," according to the national director of the Deaf Federation of South Africa and at least two other experts.
The man stood on stage with nearly 100 heads of state, including President Barack Obama, who all gave speeches to honor Mandela, and was actually interpreting nothing, making unintelligible signs. Bruno Druchen, the director of the South Africa's Deaf Federation, told the Associated Press that the man was "moving his hands around but there was no meaning in what he used his hands for." Druchen's wife, Wilma Newhoudt-Druchen, a South African parliament member who is also deaf, confirmed that the man was signing nonsense.
"It was horrible, an absolute circus."
It's still unclear how the unidentified man was able to get on the memorial's stage and begin his translation charade. Druchen notes that the same man has been caught doing this before. According to the AP, sign language frauds are common in South Africa. People who know a few signs try to pass themselves off as professionals to make some quick cash, and those who are hiring interpreters usually don't know sign themselves, so they are unable to detect a fake from a professional.
"It was horrible, an absolute circus, really, really bad," official sign language interpreter Nicole Du Toit said. "Only he can understand those gestures."