The Sign-Language Interpreter

The man hired to translate the the speeches at the Mandela memorial service apparently did not such thing. He stood there, beside world leaders gathered to pay tribute to one of the geatest historical figures of our time, and more-or-less waved his arms around. A short video at the BBC (embedded in an article about the incident) shows this clearly by inserting a small screen with an actual interpreter actually translating a part of one of the speeches.

Thamsanqa Jantjie claims that he is not a fraud but that he panicked when he began seeing angels coming into the stadium. A good reason to panic, we should give him that, but panic isn’t such a good reason for pretending to translate while knowing you’re not. And the panic claim, as well as the claim of schizophrenia and a poor knowledge of English by a native Xhosa speaker are obiously, transparently, and disdainfully, lies.

(The story reminds me of an cringe-inducing episode of the television sit-com “Friends”, which you can see on YouTube.)

The take-away, at least the important one, is that the government of South Africa has so little regard for the hearing impaired, while remaining concerned about the impression they give of inclusiveness, that it doesn’t occur to anybody that they ought to vett the interpreter hired for an event much of the world will watch. It is a ticket they must punch to appear democratic, and although they feel the need to appear inclusive, the appearance is enough for them.

More interesting, though, is the backstory on the man himself. Did he just think he could get away with it? That no one would notice? If so, that’s only because he has gotten away with it before often enough that he doesn’t conceive, nor do his employers (who have apparently disappeared) of ever being found out. I’m forced to the conclusion that fraud and corruption so permeate South African political culture that the most shallow investigation would show it to be completely hollow.

Added December 12, 2013, 12:47:

Jimmy Kimmel has covered this better than anyone.

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