A mentally ill man who by his own admission is violent at times was given security clearance to be a few feet from some very powerful people. Who gave him the clearance? The government in charge of security and overseeing the burial of a legend and hero. Not only is that unthinkable act done but he is given a job that can only be done once and if not done right will warp a day that was to be immortalized. I am talking, of course, about the interpreter for the hearing impaired at Nelson Mandela’s funeral.
As a member of the deaf and hearing impaired community I am greatly disturbed with these events. So many failures, so many denials. This poor man is now bearing the burden of scape goat. No one but Thamsanga Jantjie knows if he was truly having a psychotic episode. But there is plenty of evidence that this man should never have gotten the job in the first place.
The South African government has failed the world, those dependent on interpreters, and its people. Is this the first time? Heck no. People are reporting left and right how he had been complained about previously. But they are dismissing the fact that up until the last couple of decades segregation continued for the hearing impaired there. Whites learned formal sign language and the black deaf community was taught a guttural basic sign language if they were lucky. It wasn’t until recently they adopted a uniform sign language. But even their government approved sign language, SASL, has yet to be completely defined.
On top of the language still being developed there, its reported that there’s only six accredited SASL interpreters in all of South Africa. Six?! Thamsanga Jantjie is not one of those six. But somehow while the government was arranging Mr Mandela’s funeral he was the one and only interpreter hired. Against their own regulations that state an interpreter must be relieved of duty every twenty minutes. And all for the whopping sum of around 65 dollars.
My heart goes out to Thamsanga Jantjie because there is plenty of evidence of his mental illness. But the question remains why was such a man given such an important and stressful job? He’s been institutionalized for a year, unable to function in day to day life. Stress is one of the prime triggers of a mental breakdown. His rambling apology proves he’s unaware of his own inept ability. (Yes contrary to what you’ve heard he did apologize.) And everyone from the agency he freelanced for to the government has all but said he was uninvited and basically volunteered. Yet he was given the highest security clearance.
It’s a sad day when the world turns on a very ill man and dismisses the real problem. It is exactly the thing that Nelson Mandela fought for. Education and equality. Our hearts go out to his widows and children. I hope that the people of South Africa remember and learn.
- Mandela memorial interpreter says he has schizophrenia (theguardian.com)
- We made error over Nelson Mandela sign language interpreter – government (theguardian.com)
- Mandela Sign Language Interpreter Says He Had Schizophrenic Episode (npr.org)
- Meet Thamsanqa Jantjie, the Fake Sign Language Interpreter Guy (everyjoe.com)