Using an interpreter not fully skilled in sign language at former president Nelson Mandela’s memorial service was a mistake, Deputy Minister for people with Disabilities Minister Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu said on Thursday.
But while a mistake did happen, it was not something South Africa should be embarrassed about. “We can’t be told we are embarrassed … did a mistake happen? Yes,” the deputy minister said. “I don’t think it would be accurate for me to stand here and say we are embarrassed.
“A mistake happened while we were trying … We try to improve.”
She said the interpreter was overwhelmed, had trouble translating from Xhosa to English to sign language, with Xhosa being his first language, and there should have been a second sign language interpreter on stage as directed by regulations.
She said the company the man worked for, SA Interpreters, had been found after the memorial to have been providing substandard sign language services for some time. “It appears that they had been cheating all along,” said Bogopane-Zulu.
The company had been charging the interpreter’s services at R800 a day when normally a sign language interpreter charged between R1 300 to R1 700 an hour.
Complaints Regarding who procured the company and interpreter’s services, the deputy minister repeated Minister in the Presidency Collins Chabane’s statement on Wednesday that the various government departments involved in Tuesday’s memorial were finalising what happened.
The deputy minister said the first time she had received complaints about the man was on Wednesday, against statements made by deaf organisations that they had raised concerns about the interpreter for some time.
The interpreter, Thamsanqa Jantjie, was metres away from the likes of President Jacob Zuma, US President Barack Obama, Cuban President Raul Castro, and Graca Machel during proceedings at Mandela’s memorial at FNB Stadium in Johannesburg on Tuesday.
The Cape Times reported earlier on Thursday that Jantjies said he suffered a schizophrenic episode during the memorial. He told the newspaper that he did not know whether it was the importance of the event or the happiness he felt during the day which triggered the attack. During proceedings Jantjies, who uses medication for schizophrenia, lost concentration and began hallucinating. He later apologised for his actions, stating he “was alone in a dangerous situation” and there was nothing he could do. – Sapa M&G
S Africa investigates ‘fake signer’ security checks
Thamsanqa Jantjie: “I see angels come into the stadium”
South Africa’s deputy disability minister says the government is investigating how a man who faked sign language at the Mandela memorial was given security clearance.
Thamsanqa Jantjie, who stood alongside world leaders at the event, has denied being a fraud, and said he panicked when he began hallucinating.
He said he had schizophrenia, which had in the past made him act violently.
The agency that employed him, SA Interpreters, has reportedly vanished.
Continue reading the main story
Joseph Winter BBC News, Johannesburg
South Africa’s Deputy Disability Minister Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu admitted that hiring an unqualified sign language interpreter was a mistake but denies suggestions that the government should be embarrassed.
However, many South Africans, deaf people around the world and no doubt the US presidential security team will disagree.
Ms Bogopane-Zulu says the agency through which Thamsanqa Jantjie was recruited has “vanished into thin air” after providing a sub-standard service for many years – previous clients are said to have included other government agencies and the ANC.
Nobody has yet admitted to recruiting SA Interpreters and Mr Jantjie, but whoever was responsible will no doubt be asked to make a similar mea culpa.
This scandal is partially overshadowing the national mourning for Nelson Mandela, who continues to lie in state. South Africa will hope the outstanding questions will be answered before his funeral on Sunday.
The African National Congress (ANC) said it had used Mr Jantjie as an interpreter several times before, and “had not been aware of any of complaints regarding the quality of services, qualifications or reported illnesses” of the interpreter.
But it said Tuesday’s memorial at a stadium in Johannesburg was organised by the state, not the ANC, so the ruling party could not comment on security arrangements.
The South African Translators’ Institute said earlier there had been complaints over Mr Jantjie’s work before, but that the ANC had taken no action.
The ANC said it would “follow up the reported correspondence that has supposedly been sent to us in this regard and where necessary act on it”.
Mr Mandela died last week at the age of 95, and will be buried on Sunday.
His body is currently lying in state in Pretoria, with thousands queuing to pay their respects.
During the memorial, Mr Jantjie (also spelt Dyantyi) stood on the stage next to key speakers including US President Barack Obama, South African President Jacob Zuma and Mr Mandela’s grandchildren, translating their eulogies.
An interpreter on South Africa’s SABC TV shows the signing which should have been used
Mr Jantjie’s performance was watched on television by millions of people worldwide and angered the South African deaf community. Pressure has been mounting on the government to explain why he was hired for such an important event.
Deputy Disability Minister Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu told a news conference on Thursday: “Firstly, I don’t think South Africa as a country would put at risk anybody’s security, especially those of heads of state.
“Secondly, when somebody provides a service of a sign language interpreter, I don’t think… somebody would say: ‘Is your head ok? Do you have any mental disability?’ I think the focus was on: ‘Are you able to sign? Can you provide the services?’”
But she said: “In terms of security clearance that is in a process, we are requesting to check his vetting.”
Ms Bogopane-Zulu apologised to the deaf community but said there was no reason for the country to be embarrassed.
Mr Jantjie has been employed to sign at ANC events in the past
“There are as many as a hundred sign language dialects,” she said, explaining that Mr Jantjie speaks Xhosa and that “the English was a bit too much for him”.
She also accused Mr Jantjie’s employers of being “cheats”, and said the directors of SA Interpreters had since vanished.
Government minister Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu said the interpreting firm had been providing sub-standard services for some time
Mr Jantjie himself has blamed his flawed interpretation on a schizophrenic episode.
He told the Associated Press he had often been violent in the past, and had been due to attend a routine mental health check-up on the day of the memorial, to determine whether he needed to be admitted to hospital.
He told the BBC that during the event, he had had a breakdown, and started hallucinating that angels were coming down into the crowd.
“I started knowing that I am not real, because it’s not something possible. But believe me I saw them coming on stage.
“From that moment, it was not myself,” he said, saying he had becoming concerned for the safety of people in the stadium and was “absolutely” aware that he was not signing correctly.
Long queues of mourners wait to catch a bus to view the body of ex-President Nelson Mandela, a scene reminiscent of that in 1994 when voters queued in Soweto
A long line of people wait outside the polling station in Soweto to vote in South Africa’s first all-race elections in April 1994
Continue reading the main story
Lying in state
- Nelson Mandela’s body lies in state at the Union Buildings in Pretoria 11-13 December
- Coffin taken every morning from the mortuary to the Union Buildings
- Public encouraged to line the route
- Mandela family and selected visitors viewed the body from 10:00 on Wednesday; open to public from midday
- The public is then able to view the body from 08:00 to 17:30 on Thursday and Friday
Mr Mandela’s body is lying in state until 13 December, when the military will fly the coffin to the Eastern Cape from Air Force Base Waterkloof in Pretoria.
A military guard of honour will welcome the arrival, and the coffin will then be placed on a gun carriage and transported to a hearse.
Mr Mandela’s body will then be taken to his home village of Qunu, where the Thembu community will conduct a traditional ceremony.
A national day of reconciliation will take place on 16 December when a statue of Mr Mandela will be unveiled at the Union Buildings.
Big screens have been set up across South Africa to show the planned national events.