He’s being called a fake but 34-year-old Thamsanqa Jantjie, is defending his performance as a sign language interpreter at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service in South Africa Tuesday. He says there’s a reason his work was not understandable.
According to Johannesburg’s The Star, Jantjie claims he “lost concentration, and started hearing voices and hallucinating,” while translating dignitaries’ speeches at the service. He is quoted as saying, “There was nothing I could do. I was alone in a very dangerous situation. 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.”
During Tuesday’s memorial service, Jantjie was on the stage with top South African officials and numerous heads of state, including President Obama. What the hearing loss community saw was that Jantjie’s signing was unintelligible and that he lacked the facial expressions that are crucial in conveying a speaker’s words.
Among those who noticed was Wilma Newhoudt, the first deaf person elected to South Africa’s parliament and a vice president of the World Federation of the Deaf. “Shame on this male so-called interpreter on the stage,” she tweeted during the memorial service. “What is he signing? He knows that the deaf cannot vocally boo him off. Shame on him!”
Jantjie went on the radio Thursday and defended his work, repeatedly insisting that he is qualified to do that job. “I’ve interpreted many big events. There was no one at all that said I interpreted wrong,” he told the radio station, adding, “If I was interpreting wrong through these years, why should it become an issue now? It’s one of the questions I’ve never ever gotten an answer for.”
Jantjie told the radio station that the African National Congress (ANC), Mandela’s political party, had hired him through SA Interpreters, where Jantjie has worked for many years. The ANC has denied that it hired Jantjie and says it is investigating the incident.
An email sent by the South Aftrican national government addressed the issue, stating: “As we look at yesterday’s events, government has noted the concern expressed in various quarters about the alleged incorrect use of sign language at the National Memorial Service. Government is looking into this matter but has not been able to conclude this inquiry due to the demanding schedule of organising events related to the State Funeral. Government will report publicly on any information it may establish but wishes to assure South Africans that we are clear in defending the rights and dignity of people with disabilities.”
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Source: npr.org and cnn.com