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'Fake' Sign Language Interpreter Marred Mandela Memorial

NPR icon by Mark Memmott
Pedro Ugarte

There's outrage among many in the deaf community over the appearance on stage Monday of a man who they say was only pretending to do sign language interpretation as President Obama and other world leaders eulogized Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Among those who noticed what was happening 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 wrote on Twitter during the memorial service. "What is he signing? He knows that the deaf cannot vocally boo him off. Shame on him!"

Others who protested included Bruno Peter Druchen, national director at the Deaf Federation of South Africa. "Please get RID of this CLOWN interpreter, please!" he tweeted.

The Limping Chicken, a U.K. website that focuses on news involving the deaf community, posted a video showing both the "fake" and a sign language interpreter who many TV viewers saw in a small box superimposed on their screens. The woman in that box was actually interpreting what was said, Limping Chicken reports. You can see how different her actions and gestures are compared to those of the man on stage.

According to The Guardian, "members of South Africa's deaf community has [sic] previously raised concerns about the interpreter, who has been used at other African National Congress events."

As you can see from the photo we'll attach to the post, the man was within just a few feet of Obama as the president delivered his remarks.

IOL, a news site from South Africa's Independent Newspapers, reports that "government spokeswoman Phumla Williams said she was unable to respond to the allegations immediately, as she did not know which department procured the service provider. She said she did not know about his qualifications or expertise."

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