South Africa’s deaf federation said this interpreter (seen here with President Obama after his speech at the memorial service for former South African president Nelson Mandela) was a fake. He has reportedly been identified as Thami Jantjie.
A fake sign language interpreter who flapped his hands throughout Nelson Mandela’s memorial service will be hearing from authorities soon.
The South African government is investigating “alleged incorrect use of sign language” after a man stood on stage and pretended to translate speeches by President Obama and several other world leaders at Tuesday’s service in Johannesburg. He was identified Wednesday night as Thami Jantjie, the U.K. Mirror reported, citing sources from South Africa.
The imposter interpreter flailed his arms inside the packed FNB Stadium in Soweto — but his gestures were meaningless.
“He was moving his hands around, but there was no meaning in what he used his hands for,” said Bruno Druchen, national director of the Deaf Federation of South Africa.
Jantjie was ‘literally flapping his arms around’ during Obama’s speech at the memorial on Tuesday, said one official.
It was not immediately clear how the bogus interpreter slipped into the service, which was attended by nearly 100 heads of state.
Experts agreed that the bogus interpreter was not signing American sign languages or any of South Africa’s 11 official languages. But he still managed to stay on stage for the duration of the service, leaving leaders in the deaf community outraged.
“He was a complete fraud,” Cara Loening, director of Sign Language Education and Development in Cape Town, told Agence France-Presse.
Officials said the same man provided his bizarre brand of sign language interpretation for an event last year attended by South African President Jacob Zuma. A formal complaint was submitted to the African National Congress, Druchen said.
It was not immediately clear how the Jantjie managed to get on stage during the service, which was broadcast worldwide.
But the ANC never responded to the complaint, according to Druchen. He said a new complaint will be filed because of the farce at the Mandela memorial service.
Meanwhile, the leaders who took the selfie seen ’round the world claimed they weren’t acting tone deaf during the service.
White House officials said “it’s a shame” that a few distractions — like the the cell phone picture taken by Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Denmark’s Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt — “detracted from the event and the importance of Mandela’s legacy.”
The photographer who captured the moment also disputed reports that First Lady Michelle Obama was annoyed with her husband’s behavior.
PEDRO UGARTE/AFP/Getty Images
Officials confirmed the Jantjie (right) was a fake after outrage from people in the deaf community.
“In reality, just a few seconds earlier the First Lady was herself joking with those around her, Cameron and Schmidt included,” said AFP lensman Roberto Schmidt. “Her stern look was captured by chance.”
Cameron said he was just being nice when a political acquaintance — Thorning-Schmidt is the daughter-in-law of former British Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock — asked for him to pose.
“When a member of the Kinnock family asked me for a photograph, I thought it was only polite to say yes,” he said.
India’s President Pranab Mukherjee (left) speaks at the podium as a Jantjie waves fake signs.
And the sexy blond Scandinavian leader defended her snapshot, taken during what was supposed to be a somber event.
“The atmosphere was of course melancholic, but ultimately it was a celebration of a man who lived to be 95 years old and who managed to accomplish so much in his life,” she told Danish Berlingske newspaper. “There was dancing on the stands and singing and dancing, so the mood was positive. And then we took a really fun selfie.”
With News Wire Services
USING A MOBILE DEVICE? CLICK HERE FOR VIDEO