Mandela interpreter goes commercial - VideoComment on this story
Cape Town - He was globally ridiculed; an easy laugh for comedians on late-night talk shows and anchors on the morning news.
But just when it looked as if the world had closed the book on Thamsanqa Jantjie and his nonsensical interpretations during Nelson Mandela’s funeral service, he has reappeared.
“Believe me, I’m a real sign language interpreter,” says Jantjie.
This is one of his opening lines in a bizarre commercial where he was unveiled as the official face of Livelens, a new social live-streaming app with a comfortable backing of more than $2 million.
The advert is a jarring collection of clips shot in front of a green screen, where Jantjie is superimposed on to a horse, has his head explode and is spun around inside a disco ball.
Spliced into this seemingly random collection of clips is his now-infamous turn on stage with US President Barack Obama, where a woman’s voice suggests he was signing: “Cigarette share, hand me the scissors.” Appearing at the podium, at what resembles a press conference, Jantjie apologises for what happened at the funeral.
After the Mandela funeral service, Jantjies had attributed the gibberish he had signed to experiencing a schizophrenic episode while on stage, causing him to hallucinate and see angels.
But the the woman’s voiceover in the advert suggests he signed: “Me, famous celebrity” directly after saying sorry.
Other stand-out quotes include him apparently signing: “Now I do campaign for money” as bank notes rain down behind him.
He concludes the advert by taking off his jacket and dancing on-screen.
Unsurprisingly, the advert has outraged people in both the deaf and sign language communities who lashed out against the funeral organisers and Jantjie after the funeral.
Cara Loening, from Sign Language Education and Development, said: “The deaf worldwide are outraged about this. The issue is that ad is really making a mockery of the deaf and sign language.
“For hundreds of years the deaf have been fighting to have sign language recognised as a language equal to any other language,” she said.
“This ad has once again ridiculed the linguistic rights of the deaf. Can you imagine if something similar was done to any of the spoken languages in South Africa? There would be a total uproar.
“South African Sign Language is being offered as a subject next year in schools for the deaf. The personal gain for the advertising company and Thamsanqa Jantjie is at great cost to the strides that have been made.”
This response was just the tip of the iceberg, with many sites and users further attacking the company for taking advantage of the mentally ill by having Jantjie star in their advert.
Jantjies has reportedly been in a mental health facility since December.
But Livelens has defended its decision to cast Jantjies.
The company’s chief executive, Max Bluvband, told NBC News: “We decided that the guy who had the worst live show ever would be the best person. At the end of the day, a schizophrenic guy got paid and did a nice campaign… We see it as sort of a sad story with a happy ending.”
On Twitter, the company wrote: “It’s about giving people a second chance. He is mentally ill and made a mistake. Should he be banished for life?” But the justification isn’t flying with most users.
At the time of going to print the ad had had just over 28 000 views.