Whatever the man on stage during Nelson Mandela’s memorial service was doing with his hands was not sign language, according to the Deaf Federation of South Africa.
Multiple news agencies around the world have reported that the unidentified interpreter, who “signed for a portion of the ceremony including Barack Obama’s speech,” was called a “fake” and a “fraud,” according to the Telegraph.
The Associated Press reportedly confirmed with three “sign language experts who watched the broadcast” that the man “was not signing in South African or American sign languages,” USA Today reported.
Bruno Peter Druchen, National Director of the Deaf Federation of South Africa and chairman of the South African Disability Alliance, was appalled by what he was seeing and tweeted:
Please get RID of this CLOWN interpreter,please! pic.twitter.com/ziAZ4KBFNZ
— Bruno Peter Druchen (@BrunoDruchen) December 10, 2013
David Buxton from the British Deaf Association said the interpreter was “waving his hands around but there was no meaning.”
Mr Buxton said it was “childish hand gestures and clapping, it was as if he had never learnt a word of sign language in his life.” He said sign languages across the world share a similar structure and pattern, but his were just repetitive hand movements. “It was hours of complete nonsense. He is clearly a fraud who wanted to stand on stage with big and important people. It’s quite audacious if you think about it.”
A deaf Member of Parliament in South Africa and Druchen’s wife, Wilma Newhoudt, tweeted her outrage – as did others – as she watched the coverage of the service:
The South African government told the Associated Press it was preparing a statement, but as yet, there has been no official word on how this man was allowed to “sign” during what has been called the “biggest funeral in world history.”