“Fake” Sign Language Interpreter – Nelson Mandela Memorial

fake interpreter Wow……I guess we should join the chorus of voices commenting on the ‘fake’ interpreter highlighted at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service.

I haven’t seen this much attention focused on Deaf issues since “Deaf President Now” at Gallaudet back in 1988!  The initial rumblings began early and suddenly the story is on Page One around the world!


FOX News

Huffington Post


USA Today

And many many more including Saturday Night Live……

The sign language interpreter at the center of this media storm has just today checked himself into a Psychiatric hospital.

Thamsanqa Jantjie gained international infamy overnight when he was accused of making false sign language interpretations of the speeches of several world leaders, including President Barack Obama, at the memorial at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg on December 10, 2013. When questioned, he told reporters that he had suffered a schizophrenic episode on his way into the stadium and claimed that he saw “angels.”

The Star reported that Jantjie’s checkup was originally scheduled for the day of the memorial service, but he told his wife to reschedule when he was offered the job of interpreting at the memorial service.

Local media have since reported that he was part of a mob that burnt two people to death 10 years ago – allegations he has denied – and that he had also faced rape, kidnapping and theft charges.

Last week he shouted at an AFP reporter, initially referring to her as “good” then suddenly accusing her of being “evil” and a “demon”.

In his home province of Free State, local media have accused Mr. Jantjie of impersonating a lawyer and a traditional healer, though he has not commented on those claims.

Today, if you ‘google’ Nelson Mandela, the first text that Google comes up with refers to this “interpreter”.

This is not a funny story, but the plot twists can be compared to a James Bond Thriller where a sick individual is allowed complete access to many of the world’s leaders in one setting. Many people find this part of the story most incredible.

Reading over comments posted on endless websites describing this event, the most positive comments reflect on deafness, Deaf Culture, and the world of sign language interpreters. These elements have been thrust from the shadows into the spotlight. The demand for “equal access” has been dragged to the forefront. The absolute need for qualified sign language interpreters has evolved from “preferable” to a “must have”.

Awareness!  If we’re looking for a ‘silver lining’ in all of this, awareness and sensitivity are now on the radar of many who “never really thought about it”. This one event enlightened people, cities and World Leaders across the globe. We could not have orchestrated or fund-raised our way into this kind of world-wide attention.

We wish the best for Thamsanqa Jantjie as he pursues treatment for his illness. Whether his ineptness was intentional or not, he obviously needs help.

And here’s a toast to the hard-working, dedicated, professional AND qualified sign language interpreters around the world, many of whom work with us! Here’s another toast to the Deaf population who has been left out, put up with substandard services, endured apathy and have tried to be patient.

And here’s to the upcoming New Year and the continual search for silver linings.



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About Evelyn

Evelyn Hunter is a SODA with years of experiential study in Deaf Culture. She attended Gallaudet University to immerse herself in this unique deaf world while working for the University and studying sign language to hone her skills. Evelyn has served in training, relationship sales, and marketing -- always seeking to expand awareness of Deaf Culture and the unique challenges the deaf face on a daily basis. The Sign Language Company has recently established a presence on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and a website with a blog, as Evelyn coordinates the marketing and outreach efforts for the agency. Her goal is to attract new clients seeking exceptional service, while maintaining optimal relationships with clients who have selected The Sign Language Company for over 20 years.

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