Fake Interpreter at Nelson Mandela Funeral Blames Sickness

Published on December 12, 2013. Updated October 15, 2014
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Thamsanqa Jantjie.

He is the sign language interpreter who offered aesthetic jibberish to the memorial service of Nelson Mandela. He has since been accused of being a fraud. Even for those of use who don’t communicate with sign language, it is pretty obvious in the video below that Jantjie is offering little more than baseball signs and decoys.

At one point, I thought Jantjie was telling someone to steal second, then it looked like he wiped off the signal and decided on the hit-and-run.

OK. It’s not something to make light of. This is serious. There were many deaf members of society who wanted to participate in the memorial of Madiba, and they were left perplexed, frustrated and angered at the farce presented as sign language. The movements offered by Jantjie were  nothing more than interpretive dance, meaning nothing in either English, South African or even Afrikaans. It was a mess.

Yet here’s something to consider: Thamsanqa Jantjie is an interpreter who has been used many times before, without incident. So, clearly, he isn’t a fraud. According to the South African native, he suffers from schizophrenia, and had an attack while onstage offering interpretation for Mandela’s memorial. Jantjie suggests that he didn’t know what to do, and could not focus on what was going on around him, so he just continued making movements with his arms. Jantjie also suggested he took medication before the memorial, but during the eulogies and tributes, he began loosing concentration, and hearing voices.

Wow. If the poor guy is telling the truth (and considering his past as a quality interpreter, there’s no reason to believe he’s not), maybe it says a whole lot more about us than it does him, and offers a nice slice of irony to the memorial of a man who was interested in highlighting our similarities, as opposed to bickering about our differences.

Check out the video to see the controversial incident in action:

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