Sign Language Interpreter At Mandela Funeral Was A Fake

Mandela Interpreter

If you watched Nelson Mandela’s funeral yesterday, you probably caught sight of the sign language interpreter standing next to the speakers as they spoke, including President Obama. A fairly standard thing these days, of course, but as it turns out this guy was a complete fraud:

To those outside the deaf community, the sign language interpreter for Nelson Mandela’s memorial may have looked like he was working hard, translating the spoken words into gestures for four hours.

But he has been dubbed “a fake,” and his actions outraged deaf people, according to an association for the deaf community in South Africa.

The service to commemorate the revered statesman, who died last week at the age of 95, was broadcast to millions of viewers around the world.

While dignitaries addressed the crowd Tuesday at Johannesburg’s FNB stadium, the unidentified suited man with a security pass produced a series of hand signals that experts say meant nothing.

The Deaf Federation of South Africa (DeafSA) said the “interpreter” was not a recognized professional, nor was he known by the deaf community in the country.

“The so-called ‘interpreter’ who interpreted at the official memorial service for late former president Nelson Mandela at FNB stadium has been dubbed the ‘fake interpreter’ and the deaf community is in outrage,” Bruno Druchen, national director of DeafSA, said in a statement.

“He is not known by the Deaf Community in South Africa nor by the South African Sign Language interpreters working in the field.”

The man did not use facial expressions, which in South African sign language are an important part of communication, and the hand signals he used were meaningless, Druchen said.

“The signs (self-invented signs) the interpreter used are not used in South African Sign Language and it is a total mockery of the language,” he said.

During the man’s appearance on Tuesday, Wilma Newhoudt, a deaf member of the South African Parliament and Vice President of the World Federation of the Deaf, tweeted: “ANC-linked interpreter on the stage with dep president of ANC is signing rubbish. He cannot sign. Please get him off.”

The South African Government is apparently investigating how this guy managed to end up as the interpreter for the event and get so close to so many world leaders. Quite obviously, it raises some real security concerns.

Update: Maybe they should have hired Garrett Morris:

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. al-Ameda says:

    “ANC-linked interpreter on the stage with dep president of ANC is signing rubbish. He cannot sign. Please get him off.”

    Oh my. Attention comedy writers – you missed this one.
    Seriously, how can fiction writers compete with reality?

  2. Steve V says:

    Ok, I don’t know any sign language and I could tell after a very short time he was making it up.

  3. michael reynolds says:


    We just rip it off and pretend we made it up.

  4. de stijl says:

    @Steve V:

    I had the same reaction – thought he looked more like a third base coach than an interpreter.

  5. michael reynolds says:

    @de stijl:
    That would explain Obama’s slide into third.

  6. DrDaveT says:

    So, tasteless and offensive, but this guy has to get the “Chutzpah of the year” award, right?

  7. DC Loser says:

    Or this interpreter:

  8. Gromitt Gunn says:

    They should have hired Catherine Tate.

  9. rodney dill says:

    Move over Salahi’s

  10. Bkhuna says:

    Try as I might, I can’t tell who in the photo is the biggest fraud.