JOHANNESBURG — The ANC has passed the buck on the fake sign language interpreter who took to the stage during the memorial for former President Nelson Mandela, gesticulating gibberish before a global audience of millions and outraging deaf people across the world.
While dignitaries were addressing the crowd in the 95 000-seat Soccer City stadium, the young, suited man stood within metres of United States President Barack Obama.
He had an official security pass round his neck, but no-one seemed to know who he was, raising serious security questions.
The hunt is on for the man, whose identity is a mystery to South Africa’s deaf community and the government, which was officially in charge of Tuesday’s ceremony.
“He was basically gesturing. He didn’t follow any of the grammatical rules and structure of the language. He just invented his signs as he went along,” Delphin Hlungwane, an official South African sign language interpreter at DeafSA, said.
“There was zero percent accuracy. He couldn’t even get the basics right. He couldn’t even say thank you,” she said.
Hlungwane said the “interpreter” also failed to impart to television viewers — as he should have done — that the crowd gave a hostile reception to Zuma, a scandal-plagued leader who faces an election in less than six months.
“You’re supposed to indicate with your facial expressions, even if it’s not an exact sign,” she said. “He didn’t indicate that at all. It just passed him by.”
The ANC professed no knowledge, even though television footage from a party congress a year ago appears to show the same man gesticulating on a stage alongside Zuma.
“I don’t know this guy. He doesn’t work for the ANC. It was a government event. Ask them,” spokesperson Jackson Mthembu said.
Zuma spokesperson Mac Maharaj said he was checking the reports to try to determine the man’s identity.