Belmont Club

Signed, Sealed But Not Delivered

The hunt is on for a man who impersonated a sign language interpreter at Nelson Mandela’s funeral.  He rendered President Obama’s moving tribute in gestures of his own devising.

The government, which was officially in charge of Tuesday’s ceremony, said it had tried and failed to get to the bottom of the matter.

“Government is looking in to this matter but has not been able to conclude this inquiry due to the demanding schedule of organizing events,” Presidency Minister Collins Chabane told a news conference.

Zuma spokesman Mac Maharaj said he was checking the reports, while the SABC state broadcaster, which covered the memorial, said it was not involved as it had its own on-screen signers.

The ruling African National Congress (ANC) also professed no knowledge, even though several television clips from a big party meeting a year ago showed the same man gesticulating on stage alongside Zuma.

“I don’t know this guy. He doesn’t work for the ANC. It was a government event. Ask them,” spokesman Jackson Mthembu said.

The White House issued no comment. “The White House is declining to comment on reports in South Africa that the man who provided alleged sign interpretation of President Obama’s tribute to Nelson Mandela on Tuesday is a fake.”

A spokesman for the deaf in South Africa denounced the imposter.

“He’s a complete fraud,” Cara Loening, director of Sign Language Education and Development in Cape Town told AFP.

“He wasn’t even doing anything, There was not one sign there. Nothing. He was literally flapping his arms around.”

The interpreter, who translated eulogies including those of US President Barack Obama and Mandela’s grandchildren, looked as if he was “trying to swat a few flies away from his face and his head”.

“The deaf community in South Africa are completely outraged and nobody knows who he is,” said Loening.

“We can’t find a name or anything. The organisations who have accredited interpreters do not know him at all.”

"It's Toasted"

“Who’re you calling a fake?”

The Telegraph says the presence of the fake raises questions about how good the security arrangements were at the Mandela event.

The embarrassing revelation also raises questions about the security at the landmark event, which was attended by 91 heads of state and government including Barack Obama and David Cameron.

The interpreter, who wore the clearance pass of a government official, stood just feet from Mr Obama as he made his widely-praised speech, and also interpreted for South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma, who apparently faces such a high threat level that he recently spent £12.4m on security upgrades to his private home.

The latest embarrassment was compounded by the news that Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu’s house in Cape Town was burgled as he spoke at the event.

Jacob Zuma, the man ultimately responsible for this fiasco, was booed during the event and for good reason: he’s made a mess of South Africa. The African National Congress, which Zuma represents, raised the flag of Hope we are told. The problem is that they left it at that.

Daniel Greenfield argues that “what the left has is a terrible product with great marketing”.  All their movies end with a rousing rendition of the Internationale. But after the credits roll the lights go out — permanently.  The dream is nice.

The Soviet Union could not make its agricultural policies work, but it spent enormous efforts convincing its own people and the West that those policies were working even when bread was being filled with straw and the USSR was going deep into debt buying American wheat.

But the reality ain’t so good. So every leftist leader attempts to preserve the moment of revolutionary fervor like a fly in amber. The Mandela funeral gave Zuma a chance to renew the brand because the brand is all they’ve got. The Guardian writes:

William Gumede, a political author and academic, said: “Mandela’s death has rescued Zuma politically. He was getting to a tipping point with Nkandla and other crises. It was also the week when the unions were going to decide whether to form their own political party but now that has been postponed.

“So the ANC might get some temporary relief. Its own polls had said the highest they could get in the election was 55% and the lowest 45%. But now they might get 60% again because people who’d decided they weren’t going to vote may now give them one more chance.”

No sausage, just sizzle. No worker’s paradise,  just corruption and decline. And while the debacle in South Africa was not Obama’s fault,  Richard Cohen, writing in the Washington Post last month, predicted that incompetence might undo Obama yet. It was often the worm that brought down the lofty tower of dreams.

If Barack Obama has an image, it is of the infinitely cool, cerebral leader…. Yet this same man has lately so mishandled both domestic and foreign policy that he is in mortal peril of altering his image. …

Where is Casey Stengel when we need him? In 1962, as the manager of the brand new and determinedly hapless New York Mets — 40 wins, 120 losses — he looked up and down his bench one dismal day and wondered, “Can’t anybody here play this game?”

Presidents are often elected on vague promises. But in the end they have to deliver. And to deliver competence matters. Deval Patrick dismissed criticism of Obamacare  saying, “the Affordable Care Act, is not a website.  It’s a values statement.” That’s like saying sign language is not a language.  It’s just elegant sound and fury signifying nothing.

If Zuma stuck with what he knew it would have been alright.  Zuma is probably a moderately competent political thug.  But when he tried to personate a statesman trouble was bound to follow.

The fiasco probably had its roots in these Western television programs which regularly feature sign language speakers for those with disabilities.  Zuma on seeing these western programs must have said, “get me one of those signers too.” Just as some who want to be “respectable”, wear a suit those who wanted a proper telecast enlisted a sign language man.  The Narrative, you know.

However, since most of the ANC and probably Zuma himself could hear just fine nobody actually knew what the sign language man was saying.  They slapped on the window dressing without being able to judge it, rather like the man who accepts a paper in abstract math without having a clue what it says.  Or the post modern journal that accidentally publishes a spoof of itself.

And once the fraud was standing at the right hand of Zuma, he was legitimized by proximity. For to say that President Zuma’s sign language translator was bogus would be tantamount to calling Zuma a fool and dupe, which he was, but who would say it? And the farce continued, until as is the case with all fraud, the imposture got too big for its britches. It went on international TV and finally somebody somewhere said, “the Emperoror has no clothes”.

The whole edifice of legitimacy was founded on social proof which works until it hits reality. Whether Zuma will catch up with this imposter remains to be seen.  It would be best if he never does, for who wants to be reminded of his own gullibility.

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