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Reports: Interpreter for deaf at Mandela service was a fake

JOHANNESBURG -- He made waves with his arms, touched his forehead and reached out with an embracing motion. And as the official interpreter for the deaf watching the Nelson Mandela memorial event on Tuesday, he stood right behind the world's most powerful leaders, including President Barack Obama.

And he was a fake, advocates for the deaf say.

Websites and radio shows here were flooded with condemnations of the African National Congress-led government and the organizers of the Mandela memorial event at FNB Stadium in Soweto for failing to figure out whether the man who claimed to be interpreting for the deaf was simply waving his arms around.

"Please get RID of this CLOWN interpreter, please!" Bruno Peter Druchen, head of the Deaf Federation of South Africa, tweeted during the memorial event at the stadium in Soweto.

"ANC linked interpreter on stage is causing embarrassment among deaf ANC supporters. Please get him off," added Wilma Newhoudt, a deaf member of the South African Parliament and vice president of the World Federation of the Deaf.

But the man remained onstage, and Wednesday his performance became the focus of a new storm of criticism. People who phoned an afternoon radio call-in show said it showed inept hiring, insensitivity to the deaf, and a serious security lapse on the part of the event organizers.

They said it marred the solemn event by distracting attention from the tributes.

It was not immediately clear who the man was or how he got onstage. The Associated Press reported that one of South Africa's two presidency ministers said the government is investigating.

It was the latest controversy in a week devoted to remembering Mandela.

On Tuesday, President Jacob Zuma was booed by the stadium crowd, and rain kept "overflow" stadiums largely empty.

Wednesday, lines of people waiting to see Mandela's body in state snaked their way through a hot, jam-packed parking lot while a single security checkpoint slowed progress.

Video clips show that it wasn't the man's first performance. He was the interpreter at an ANC conference last year. He interpreted the controversial song "Shoot the Boer" led by Zuma during his election campaign. When Zuma said people would run, the man pumped his arms up and down. Often his gestures were the same as Zuma's.

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