Johannesburg - The government will probe the alleged incorrect use of sign language by an official interpreter at the memorial service of former president Nelson Mandela, Minister in the Presidency Collins Chabane said on Wednesday.
“Government is looking into this matter, but has not been able to conclude this inquiry due to the demanding schedule of organising events related to the state funeral,” he told reporters in Pretoria.
“Government will report publicly on any information it may establish that wishes to assure South Africans that we are clear in defending the rights and dignity of people with disability,” he said.
The Sign Language Education and Development in Cape Town said on Wednesday that the interpreter was “a complete and utter fraud”.
“If he values his life he must come clean, because the deaf community throughout the world are outraged,” director Cara Loening said.
She said not one of his signs at the memorial at the FNB Stadium, in Soweto, on Tuesday, had anything to do with sign language.
“It was like getting somebody off the street and telling them to flap their hands around,” said Loening.
“This man made a mockery of the service. How disrespectful for what Madiba stood for.”
She said the interpreter, who was on the stage, had no clue about sign language.
“Deaf people had very, very little access to information from the memorial service.”
Another female interpreter in the SABC news wraps of the memorial was an accredited, qualified, and accurate sign language interpreter, Loening said.
Andries van Niekerk, spokesman for the National Institute for the Deaf (NID), said it was unacceptable.
“The interpreter at the service was clearly not competent and did not use hand shapes, movements, or facial expressions typical of South African sign language,” he said.
“The NID is saddened that the deaf in attendance (at the service) could not understand what other great statesmen said about the legacy that the father of our nation leaves behind.”
Van Niekerk said the deaf community was outraged.
“We are deeply concerned that whoever decided to employ this man as an interpreter, who has ruined the opportunity for the deaf to share in this final homage to a great leader, are making decisions that affect the lives of South African deaf people and causing embarrassment for the entire country.”
Wilma Newhoudt-Druchen, vice-president of the World Federation of the Deaf and the first deaf member of South Africa's Parliament, tweeted on Tuesday: “Shame on this male so-called interpreter on the stage. What is he signing? He knows that the deaf cannot vocally boo him off”.
She tweeted that he was an embarrassment, that none of his signs made sense, and that he should be removed from the stage.
Mandela died at his home in Houghton, Johannesburg, on Thursday night at the age of 95.
His memorial service was attended by dignitaries and heads of state from around the world, including US president Barack Obama.
Mandela will be buried in Qunu, in the Eastern Cape, on Sunday.