Whole lot of noise over sign-lan­guage sideshow

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - COMMENT -

WHAT would Nel­son Man­dela have made of Tham­sanqa Jan­tjie? It’s a ques­tion that crossed our minds, here at the Ma­hogany Ridge, as the bel­low­ing over the sign lan­guage in­ter­preter grew more and more deaf­en­ing.

Per­haps he would have been dis­ap­pointed. It was his me­mo­rial ser­vice af­ter all, and he’d have wanted things to have gone smoothly. But I’m al­most cer­tain he would have also seen the lighter side of it all.

Think about it. Around the world view­ers were told of Man­dela’s strug­gle and tri­umphs; of his stoic de­ter­mi­na­tion, pa­tience and mag­na­nim­ity; of his legacy of free­dom and democ­racy; of his ded­i­ca­tion to jus­tice and a last­ing peace in South Africa.

And from Jan­tjie there came stuff about cig­a­rettes, prawns and rock­ing horses?

This is ac­cord­ing to some of the trans­la­tions of his gib­ber­ish out there on the in­ter­net; you’d have to be made of stone not to think it a bit amus­ing.

True, there were se­cu­rity con­cerns. This was not just a guy stand­ing next to the world’s lead­ers pulling off moves as if he was a back­ing vo­cal­ist in an R& B out­fit. No, this was some­one who’d later claim he was a vi­o­len­ce­prone schizophrenic who’d seen an­gels in the sta­dium. Hands up those who thought the last chap to go off meds like that was Dmitri Tsafendas?

Jan­tjie should not have been there. Fact. But that’s not his fault. Nei­ther is it the rul­ing party’s.

Or so claims their spokesman, Jack­son Mthembu, him­self no stranger to in­com­pre­hen­si­bil­ity. Al­though he ad­mit­ted that the ANC had used Jan­tjie’s ser­vices in the past, he didn’t of­fer an ex­pla­na­tion as to why Jan­tjie’s short­com­ings were not a prob­lem on those oc­ca­sions. But he did say that, in this case, the state was to blame.

To this end, a tru­cu­lent and de­fen­sive Hen­ri­etta Bo­gopane- Zulu, the deputy min­is­ter for women, chil­dren and peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties, told Cape Talk lis­ten­ers on Thurs­day morn­ing that she didn’t re­ally care all that much about out­rage from a Bri­tish as­so­ci­a­tion for the deaf and hard of hear­ing; it was all very much a case of we sign a dif­fer­ent lan­guage here, and who were th­ese for­eign types to tell us that theirs was the only sign lan­guage out there?

More alarm­ingly, she said that, where oth­ers charged be­tween R3 100 and R1 800 an hour, SA In­ter­preters, the com­pany that em­ployed Jan­tjie, let their clients have him for R1 000 a day. So, not just a schizoid who flaps his arms, but a cut-rate one at that.

Some hours later, Bo­gopane-Zulu told a press con­fer­ence that Jan­tjie was only paid R800. Which may just sug­gest that gov­ern­ment is not re­ally all that averse to tak­ing ad­van­tage of the dis­ad­van­taged. (Less chat­ter at the back, please, about the dearth of such pen­ny­wise prac­tices else­where, like, just say­ing, the Depart­ment of Pub­lic Works vis- a- vis the se­cu­rity up­grades at Nkandla.)

Bo­gopane-Zulu did, how­ever, ad­mit that Jan­tjie was not a “pro­fes­sional” in­ter­preter and that, al­though he could com­mu­ni­cate with his peers, “the English was a bit too much”. Quite why it was sup­posed that Barack Obama, David Cameron, Ban Ki-moon, Raúl Cas­tro, et al, would be speak­ing Zulu is per­haps a dis­cus­sion for another time.

But then came her own cigaret­teprawn- rock­ing horse mo­ment. For years, she said, SA In­ter­preters had pro­vided a sub­stan­dard ser­vice – but gov­ern­ment had only just re­alised that now. “It looks like they have been cheat­ing all along,” was how she put it.

That said, gov­ern­ment has now for­mally apol­o­gised for Jan­tjie. Which means we can put this silly sideshow be­hind us and get back on track with the meat and veg – and that is Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma’s rude re­cep­tion at the me­mo­rial ser­vice.

It seems some­what cig­a­rette-prawn­rock­ing horse that a party that some weeks back bused in sup­port­ers to heckle and dis­rupt Western Cape Pre­mier He­len Zille’s speech at the open­ing of the Sal­danha Bay In­dus­trial De­vel­op­ment Zone while an im­pas­sive Zuma looked on should now be so up­set that its own mem­bers gave the pres­i­dent a taste of the same.

Granted, the Man­dela me­mo­rial was per­haps the wrong oc­ca­sion, but you’d have to be ut­terly deaf not to hear this par­tic­u­lar mes­sage. Nev­er­the­less, the ANC is on the warpath for the dis­senters. There could even be a new rev­o­lu­tion­ary an­them: “Shoot the Booer, Kill the Booer.”

As for Jan­tjie, well, with a smart man­ager, he can look for­ward to a promis­ing ca­reer in show busi­ness, and it wouldn’t be sur­pris­ing if he were to star, any day now, in an ex­cit­ing new Nando’s TV com­mer­cial.

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