Interpreter for deaf at Mandela event called fake

President Barack Obama delivers his speech next to a sign language interpreter during a memorial service at FNB Stadium in honor of Nelson Mandela on Tuesday in Soweto, near Johannesburg. The national director of the Deaf Federation of South Africa says a man who provided sign language interpretation on stage for Nelson Mandela’s memorial service in a soccer stadium was a “fake. AP photo

President Barack Obama delivers his speech next to a sign language interpreter during a memorial service at FNB Stadium in honor of Nelson Mandela on Tuesday in Soweto, near Johannesburg. The national director of the Deaf Federation of South Africa says a man who provided sign language interpretation on stage for Nelson Mandela’s memorial service in a soccer stadium was a “fake. AP photo

JOHANNESBURG — As one world leader after another paid homage to Nelson Mandela at a memorial service, the man standing at arm’s length from them appeared to interpret their words in sign language. But advocates for the deaf say he was a faker.

The incident, which outraged deaf people and sign-language interpreters watching the service broadcast around the globe, raised questions of how the unidentified man managed to crash a supposedly secure event attended by scores of heads of state, including President Barack Obama.

The man, who stood about a yard from Obama and other leaders, “was moving his hands around, but there was no meaning in what he used his hands for,” Bruno Druchen, national director of the Deaf Federation of South Africa, said.

“This man himself knows he cannot sign and he had the guts to stand on an international stage and do that,” said Ingrid Parkin, principal of the St. Vincent School for the Deaf in Johannesburg. “It’s absolutely impossible that he is any kind of interpreter. Or a language person at all, because he’s not even using a language there.”

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