While a massive stadium memorial Tuesday for the late South African President Nelson Mandela appeared to go off without a hitch, one embarrassing new revelation has emerged: the event’s sign-language interpreter was a fake.
Millions watched as the man moved his hands in mock sign language, but the Deaf Federation of South Africa confirms the movements were simply made-up signs, the U.K.’s Daily Mail reported Wednesday.
As President Barack Obama and several other dignitaries spoke, the man stood behind them on the podium, gesturing in a manner that looked realistic to outsiders, but three deaf experts reviewing the footage said his signing amounted to gibberish.
“The structure of his hand, facial expression and the body movements did not follow what the speaker was saying,” Braam Jordaan, a board member of the World Deaf Federation, told Australia’s SBS News.
“I was really upset and humiliated,” said Jordaan, who is deaf. “What happened at the memorial service is a truly disgraceful thing to see. What happened today will forever be aligned with Nelson Mandela and the deaf community, thanks to this fake interpreter.”
Others in the deaf community expressed anger, including Wilma Newhoudt, a member of the South African Parliament who serves as vice president of the World Federation of the Deaf.
She Tweeted: “Shame on this male so called interpreter on the stage. What is he signing? He knows that the deaf cannot vocally boo him off. Shame on him!”