Government admits using interpreter was a mistake

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.

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

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