The deaf community is angry over the sign language interpreter used at the Nelson Mandela memorial.

Johannesburg - The “fake” sign language interpreter at Nelson Mandela's memorial service marred the tributes made to the freedom icon, two organisations for the deaf said on Thursday.

“The charlatan has infuriated the deaf community in South Africa and the world,” the SA National Deaf Association (Sanda) and Disabled People South Africa (DPSA) said.

They said in a statement he did a huge disservice to the sign language interpreter profession.

“This incident has highlighted the poignant reality of the situation of deaf people and the chasm between policy and practices in South Africa.”

The interpreter, Thamsanqa Jantjie, was metres away from President Jacob Zuma, US President Barack Obama, Cuban President Raul Castro, and Mandela's widow Graca Machel during proceedings at Mandela's memorial service at FNB Stadium in Johannesburg on Tuesday.

Sanda and DPSA said the laissez-faire attitude towards sign language interpreting as a profession and the lack of development of South African sign language in general was a manifestation of policy neglect and government dithering.

“It cannot be that just anyone with basic knowledge of the alphabet or an enterprising charlatan like the fake one can become a sign language interpreter overnight without proper accreditation procedures befitting any profession,” they said.

“At present, deaf people, as users of service, have no recourses to reporting complaints they may experience with sign language interpreters in general and the profession in particular.”

The FNB Stadium incident exposed the need for a regulatory mechanism to regulate accreditation processes for the profession.

“Nelson Mandela bequeathed us with firm and empowering fundamental values of human rights, human dignity and human justice. We need to tirelessly fight for, promote and safeguard these values,” the two organisations said.

“Let this be the fitting apology to deaf people and a lasting tribute to Nelson Mandela and the country for this embarrassment of international proportions.”

“The organisers should apologise to the deaf community and the people of South Africa,” Sanda and DPSA said.

Sapa