Nelson Mandela’s funeral: Was the sign interpreter deliberately trying to mock the deaf and mute community across the world?

Published: December 15, 2013
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The fake interpreter at Nelson Mandela's memorial has offended the deaf and mute community along with people all over the world. PHOTO: Reuters

Life is a precious gift, taken for granted by the majority of us. We always manage to take time out for complaining about corrupt politicians, flawed systems and increasing taxes but do we ever simply take a minute to be thankful for all that God has bestowed upon us?

Before we ask for more, can we not be grateful for all that we already have?

It might be human nature to be selfish, but there is no doubt in the fact that God’s blessings are impossible to keep count of. However, if one does intend to be appreciative, why not start from the very basic necessities, such as the ability to see, hear, touch, taste and smell.

Can we even begin to imagine the hardships that are dealt with, day in day out, by the deaf and mute community?

As human beings and responsible inhabitants of this planet, it must be our utmost priority to make life comfortable for those amongst us who are handicapped or suffer from a disability. However, the sad reality is much more different as this world consists of a few very ignorant and oblivious souls that play a considerable part in spreading tension and hatred, ruining the equilibrium of the global society.

The fake interpreter earlier this week at Nelson Mandela’s Memorial in Soweto, South Africa, is testimony to this very statement.

As the world joined hands to honour arguably the most significant freedom fighter of the 20th century, Thamsanqa Jantjie, a so called sign language interpreter, stood on the podium for hours, acting his way through as global leaders addressed the audience and paid homage to Madiba.

This mystery South African man continued to mock the deaf audience as he persisted with his silly hand gestures throughout the memorial, making it seem as if he was communicating the emotional speeches delivered by several Head of States. According to deaf groups, the man’s actions made no sense in any language to the countless spectators relying on him around the world. The Deaf Federation of South Africa’s national director, Bruno Druchen is reported to have said:

“He was moving his hands around but there was no meaning in what he used his hand for.”

Not only did this man fake his movements, he also displayed no facial expressions, which are very crucial while translating emotional speeches, a number of which were delivered on the day.

I sympathise with the deaf public, who has every right to feel disrespected and offended. It is indeed shameful that authorities had been so complacent while organising the event and that such an important worldly figure was bid farewell in such sorry fashion. It hurts me further that this mishap took place at the honouring of the one and only Nelson Mandela, a leader who fought for equality and human rights for most part of his life. This disgraceful occurrence is completely contradictory to everything Madiba has worked towards and his entire philosophy as a whole. It is humiliating how this deception wasn’t put to an end during the memorial, supporting the stereotypical claim regarding deaf people and how they are not heard.

What surprises me the most is that this fraud had the guts to stand toe to toe with the likes of Barack Obama and President Jacob Zuma, conveying false messages to thousands of people present in the stadium. Also, this lie was not restricted to the spectators in Soweto, as an event of this magnitude was airing live across the world.

One wonders what the motive behind such a treacherous deed could be.

Was this man deliberately mocking the disabled community or was he doing it for the money?

Could this scam be a result of the desire to stand next to the renowned leaders of the world or has this man simply been cheating the public since years, without getting caught?

The CEO of the British Deaf Association, David Buxton has stated:

“He is clearly a fraud who wanted to stand on stage with big and important people. It’s quite audacious if you think about it.”

After probing into the issue, it is reported that Jantjie has a past torched with mental illness; schizophrenia, to be more precise, which has apparently been very violent over the years. In a 45-minute interview, Jantjie mentioned that he hallucinated during the memorial and witnessed angels entering the stadium during the process.

He claims to have forced himself not to panic while the hallucinations were taking place, as armed policemen surrounded him. He also added that in the past, he was once hospitalized due to his mental condition for more than 18 months.

However, in my opinion, Thamsanqa’s credibility should still be put on the line and he should be punished accordingly for emotionally disturbing the masses, which not only include the deaf community, but all publics around the world. It is extremely hard to believe that a mentally ill interpreter had been hired by the event executives, for one of the biggest memorial services that this world has ever seen.

This matter also raises a lot of questions with respect to the security situation in South Africa, as world leaders stood only a few feet away from Jantjie, who has also faced a murder charge in the past.

Joanna Atkinson, who is a clinical psychologist and researcher at University College London has her doubts about Jantjie’s statements, as she is quoted to have said,

“The disruption of sign language in people with schizophrenia takes many forms but this does not look like anything I have seen in signers with psychosis.”

The government must look further into the matter, in an effort to extract as much detail as possible in order to prevent such a blunder from happening again. The organisers of the memorial should be held equally, or possibly more responsible for letting such a disaster ruin the essence of the tribute to the great Nelson Mandela.

A man of immense will power, Mandela never gave up and fought for what he believed in, with a positive and courageous attitude. His vision was to see the world free of all disparities and discrimination, one in which everyone can live in freedom and work together towards a brighter tomorrow. I hope the coming generations ponder upon Madiba’s legacy and achieve greater heights in the future by adopting the concept of uniformity.

“We can change the world and make it a better place. It is in your hands to make a difference” – Nelson Mandela

behram.qazi

Behram Qazi

The author is a Management Engineering graduate from the University of Waterloo. Patriotic Pakistani, devoted sports fanatic and part-time sports analyst on PTV World. He tweets as @Behram22 (twitter.com/Behram22)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.