The Man who Told the World Nothing

 Picture: Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters

Picture: Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters

“What…?” Kleinpiet is back for a beer. This time the subject under discussion is so strange that even he doesn’t want to walk out on it.

“No, it’s true. That man made all kinds of gestures, but he didn’t tell the deaf people what was happening – or what was being said.” Gertruida – who knows everything – spotted the problem immediately. At the time she remarked that it must be the New South African version of sign language, but now she knows better. “Nobody could follow him. Not in South Africa, Not overseas. It’s a disgrace.”

“Ja, Kleinpiet, it’s true. And Gertruida told us while you were out: the government knew that he couldn’t do the interpretation. As early as 2012 a complaint was sent to the ANC about the man’s abilities. That was also when he had to convert a speech by President Zuma into sign language. So the government knew…”

“You mean to tell me they used a man with no accreditation from official bodies to do something they knew he couldn’t do – and yet gave him security clearance to stand a yard away from the most powerful leaders in the world?”

“Indeed. And remember: this was to honour Madiba – and to tell the world about him. The memorial was supposed to show the world we cared. Supposed to be a showcase of our ability to organise things.”

Vetfaan sighs…this is depressing. Maybe, he thinks, the whole memorial event was such a big affair. Maybe they scrambled to get an interpreter at the last moment. Maybe this poor court interpreter was the best available. And maybe…

“They’ll fix it, I’m sure,” he says.

Servaas nods. Like they’ll fix Nkandla, the e-Tolls, the Arms Deal. They’ll always fix it. Like the old government fixed the Helderberg and Salem stories.

And then they’ll tell us nothing…


21 thoughts on “The Man who Told the World Nothing

      1. Harold Green

        Amos, to me the sadder, sicker part of this story are the many South African deaf people, and other deaf people around the world, who were denied reflecting, feeling, crying and paying their final respects to their dear Nelson Mandela.

  1. Christiane

    Well done, Comrade! You accomplished what many of us tried before but always failed: to raise awareness on an international stage of the outrageous South African habit to employ someone for any other reasons than qualification. When it comes to cleaner-come municipal leader, nobody cares if a non-educated buddy of another functionary gets to decide that raw sewage can savely spill into drinking water supplies. And when thosuands of Limpopo villagers have no access to running water because Julius Malema well received millions of Rand for a government tender but failed to complete the pipeline he had promised to build, this raises not even an eyebrow internationally. Let us learn the lesson. Maybe talking about headmasters of special needs schools who receive outrageous pay but do not bother to learn about education should get an reaction? Blind children who sit in dark, empty rooms while the donated Braille typewriters stand unused in the shelves because the principal has no idea what to use them for (but he did bother to study the car marked before buying that high end SUV) can maybe draw attention to this problem. Or a fully equipped computer room that does not get used because, as I am told in no uncertain terms: deaf children can not learn words. Applaud this comrade who was bold enough to show how the cadre does not bother a bit about educating the special needs people of South Africa!

    1. Amos van der Merwe Post author

      I read some of your posts about the conditions you have to face re educating the kids up there – and my heart goes out to you. And yes, to be angry at the ‘interpreter’ is short-sighted. The disappointment and even anger must be directed at the system that put him in this embarrassing position. Maybe, just maybe, something good will come out of this fiasco – if people will only start analysing the situation to realise how right you are.

  2. Bridge Builder

    Thanks a lot. I hope you appreciated the slight irony there. (When I comment on my cell phone somehow it misses my wordpress ID … anyway, I am the same person just from a PC now haha) Now this poor person claims he is schizophrenic Well, whatever episode you are suffering on the mental spectrum, you are normally much more likely to regress back to old habits rather than making up non-intelligible signs. For him to sign: mama makes great stew, or at least repeatedly use the SA sign for Mandela, would have been more likely. Which means this interpreter probably never knew how to sign in the first place.

    1. Amos van der Merwe Post author

      I agree – his bluff eventually failed the test of an international audience. At local meetings he may only have been a bit of the interior decorating, but here he had some experts watching him for the first time. The ‘episode’ I believe, is pure spin. And if he’s unemployed – how does that balance with getting the top sign-language job in the world on the day. Smoke and so many mirrors…

      1. Bridge Builder

        We do not want to say out loud that the organizers didn’t seem to want to put a person of different ethnicity than Mandela on stage … The SABC lady did a great job on TV…

      2. Bridge Builder

        Exactly. Amos, I recently stood in a FULLY EQUIPPED modern computer lab of a government school for handicapped children that was completely unused. Upon questioning why that is I am told in no uncertain terms: deaf children can not learn words. Just like that. When I am informing the teachers that you can download loads of visual vocabulary games for free online, they do not even look up from their whatsapp chats on their cell phones. I am sure they do share funny you tube videos. My heart is broken at the sheer size of this mindset mountain and I am afraid this is going to break me as a person.

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