Home World Africa news Thamsanqa Jantjie: Nelson Mandela interpreter failed in 2012 with self-invented gestures

Thamsanqa Jantjie: Nelson Mandela interpreter failed in 2012 with self-invented gestures

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Sign language interpreter Thamsanqa Jantjie, who claimed to suffer an on-stage schizophrenic episode during Nelson Mandela’s memorial service, failed to communicate a single word of a speech made by South African President Jacob Zuma more than a year ago.

The Deaf Federation of South Africa alleged that “100% of the information was omitted” by Thamsanqa Jantjie after he appeared at an event in January 2012.

According to NBC News, the group described Thamsanqa Jantjie’s interpreting for Jacob Zuma as “a mockery” and claimed his gestures appeared “self-invented”.

Thamsanqa Jantjie’s abilities came into question after he was accused by deaf groups of performing meaningless gestures during Nelson Mandela’s memorial service. Some groups suggested he was a “fake.”

He translated while standing three feet away from world leaders including President Barack Obama.

The Deaf Federation of South Africa complained to ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe following the party’s centenary celebrations last year.

The federation’s national director Bruno Druchen wrote that Thamsanqa Jantjie’s sign language at that event was “meaningless” and “self-invented.”

Thamsanqa Jantjie failed to communicate a single word of a speech made by President Jacob Zuma in 2012

Thamsanqa Jantjie failed to communicate a single word of a speech made by President Jacob Zuma in 2012

In the letter, which is dated January 21, 2012, Bruno Druchen compares an extract from Jacob Zuma’s speech with what Thamsanqa Jantjie actually conveyed through his sign language.

Bruno Druchen quoted Jacob Zuma as saying:

“Deputy president of the ANC and officials of the African National Congress, National Executive Committee of the African National Congress, ANC women league , Youth League (crowd scream and applaud) African National Congress leadership of MK military . Leadership from SACP, SATU and SANCO.


Friends from all over Africa and the world, comrades and compatriots, the ANC is the oldest liberation movement on the African continent is 100 years old today. We have come from all corners of South Africa , Africa and the World.”

Bruno Druchen then translated the sign language Thamsanqa Jantjie was using on stage to convey Jacob Zuma’s words (some of his corresponding hand movements are in brackets):

“All heart (ten hand move forward) which had no meaning, together (hand move back to the heart) then the sign for C is used. The hands go down to side and then point left with his right hand (no meaning) sign for beg is used repeatedly and the sign is placed on different levels in front of torso with a rocking movement. Both hands in claw shape in the air with movement with no meaning , then again the sign for beg, tree and the help sign and then the hands go forward indicating future.”

Bruno Druchen goes on to say that the interpreter did not use facial expressions, a crucial part of any form of sign language, and describes his performance as a “mime.”

“The signs used are not recognized by the deaf community in South Africa…the interpreter is unknown to the deaf community,” he said.

ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu said he has no knowledge of the complaint ever being made. He said his party is investigating the incident and reviewing its hiring and vetting procedures.

The South African government has launched an investigation into the Mandela’s memorial incident.

According to Thamsanqa Jantjie, he was paid a $85 day rate for appearing at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service.

On Thursday, South African government minister Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu pointed out that most qualified sign language interpreters charge $125 to $165 per hour and speculated that a junior official might have opted for the cheapest quote.

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