South African Government Apologizes For Interpreter

A top official in South Africa’s government on Friday offered the most direct apology so far for the sign language interpreter who appeared on stage with world leaders this week at a memorial service for Nelson Mandela.

“We sincerely apologize to the deaf community and to all South Africans for any offense that may have been suffered,” Arts and Culture Minister Paul Mashatile said.

South Africa’s News 24 adds that Mashatile also said, “we hope to speedily begin regulating the profession in early 2014 through the South African Language Practitioners’ Council Bill, so that this kind of incident doesn’t happen ever again.”

In case you’ve not followed this story, during Tuesday’s memorial service in Johannesburg complaints started to appear on Twitter from the deaf community in South Africa. The man who was standing next to President Obama and other world leaders, they said, was a fake. He wasn’t signing, they said. He was making meaningless gestures.

Some in the deaf community had complained about the man previously, after he appeared at African National Congress events.

On Thursday the interpreter, Thamsanqa Jantjie, told news outlets that he suffered a schizophrenic episode while on stage. “There was nothing I could do. I was alone in a very dangerous situation,” he told Johannesburg’s The Star. “I tried to control myself and not show the world what was going on. I am very sorry, it’s the situation I found myself in.”

But as NBC News reports, Jantjie’s explanation didn’t account for why he’d been complained about in the past:

“A ‘fake’ sign language interpreter who claimed to suffer an on-stage schizophrenic episode during Nelson Mandela’s memorial service failed to communicate a single word of a speech made by South African President Jacob Zuma more than a year ago.

“The Deaf Federation of South Africa alleged that ’100 percent of the information was omitted’ by Thamsanqa Jantjie after he appeared at an event in January 2012. In a letter of complaint obtained by NBC News on Friday, the group described Jantjie’s interpreting for Zuma as ‘a mockery’ and claimed his gestures appeared ‘self-invented.’ “

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