Whole lot of noise over sign-language sideshow
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.