This week in negligence towards the disabled: fake signer at Mandela memorial

Apparently the ANC had been alerted to the completely unskilled performance of this “interpreter” as long as 18 months ago, but are pointing fingers elsewhere for his selection for the memorial because it was a “state-organised” event.

Bruno Druchen, the national director of DeafSA, said that the man “was not in fact a recognised, professional South African sign language interpreter.

“He is not known in the deaf community in South Africa nor by the SA Sign Language interpreters working in the field.”

Druchen said that the interpreter yesterday did not use facial expressions, which was an important part of South African sign language.

He also used none of the established recognised signs for Madiba, South Africa, President Jacob Zuma or former president Thabo Mbeki.

Miranda told City Press that the fake interpreter was a person “just moving his arms and hands with no meaning, no structure and no facial expression”.

“He did our profession harm, we try very hard to get our profession recognised and one person goes on an international stage, at such a big event where deaf people right across the world can see that this guy does not know what he is doing.”

Miranda said a phone call to DeafSA would have prevented the spectacle.

Speculation abounds that the plum job was given to somebody’s lacklustre relative because none of the people in authority over the decision thought that anybody who mattered would ever notice that interpreter was an ignorant buffoon. Whether those responsible are in the ANC or in President Zuma’s administration, it’s still utterly disrespectful to the Deaf community and especially disrespectful to the memory of Madiba’s many years of working for inclusion. Someone needs to stand up and take responsibility and wear the consequences.

Categories: ethics & philosophy, social justice

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6 replies

  1. Oh wow that is bad.

  2. And doubling down:
    Apparently the problems were due to a “schizophrenic episode” which came on while he was meant to be interpreting – he apparently started hallucinating and heard voices.
    Now, I’m not going to argue the man isn’t schizophrenic. However, I would argue if he’s at such a delicately balanced state with his medication that the additional stress of having to perform in public brings on a hallucinatory episode, he needs to have another word with his psychiatrist. Or, alternatively, he needs to be willing to turn down work which is going to place him under such abnormal stresses, as part of his own self-care regime.

    • Especially since his signing at other events has reportedly been just as incomprehensible – this is not just a one-time thing.
      The main point is that he simply is not an accredited Deaf interpreter, and thus he should not be getting these jobs.

  3. Ye saga continueth:
    The South African government has issued the following apology:

    ”We sincerely apologise to the deaf community and to all South Africans for any offence that may have been suffered,”

    They’re also offering legislation aimed at regulating the profession to ensure they don’t wind up with more egg on their face in future (given Archbishop Tutu isn’t getting any younger either).

  4. Here’s a link from a British Sign Language organisation debunking the schizophrenia claim.
    People experiencing psychosis tend to communicate in particular way, whether speaking or signing. This interpreter’s behaviour does not fit that pattern.
    It’s just another layer of ableism on top of the original insult.

    • Thanks for the link, Emily. While I’m always wary of confirmation bias, this certainly jibes with what I’ve read elsewhere from Deaf analysts.

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