Nelson Mandela week of mourning marked by large turnout and sign language scandal | News | DW | 12.12.2013
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Nelson Mandela week of mourning marked by large turnout and sign language scandal

Mourners have been paying their final respects to Nelson Mandela as he lies in state for a second day in Pretoria. Meanwhile, the sign language interpreter from Tuesday's memorial has refuted claims that he's a "fake."

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Mandela lies in state

People turned out on Thursday to bid farewell to Nelson Mandela, who passed away last week at the age of 95. A funeral cortege passed through the streets of the capital city Pretoria around 7:00 a.m. (0500 UTC) as it traveled from 1 Military Hospital toward Union Building.

Images from news broadcasts showed a steady stream of mourners lined up to pay their final respects to Mandela at Union Buildings, where he laid in state for the second day.

South African President Jacob Zuma announced a week of mourning following the news of the anti-apartheid icon's death, beginning with a day of prayer and remembrance on Sunday. World leaders and celebrities flew to Johannesburg to attend the official memorial service in nearby FNB Stadium on Tuesday, which was broadcast live at public viewings across the country.

Mandela is to lie in state for a final day on Friday. His body is to then be transported to his ancestral town of Qunu in South Africa's Eastern Cape Province to be laid to rest.

Nelson Rolilahla Mandela left an indelible mark on South Africa and the world. Following nearly three decades as a political prisoner on Robben Island, he became the racially divided country's first black president. He won the respect and support of people across the globe for his efforts in helping heal the wounds of apartheid in his homeland through a spirit of reconciliation. Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.

Sign language interpreter causes uproar

Standing only feet away from prominent guests such as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and US President Barack Obama at the memorial service on Tuesday was a sign language interpreter who appeared to keep pace during the four-hour event. The Deaf Association of South Africa later accused the man, Thamsanqa Jantjie, 34, of signing jibberish.

"The signs the interpreter used are not used in South African sign language and it is a total mockery of the language," Deaf Association of South Africa national director Bruno Druchen said.

On Thursday, Jantjie rejected the accusations in an interview with Johannesburg's Star newspaper and said a schizophrenic episode had impaired his ability to concentrate and comprehend the speeches.

"There was nothing I could do," Jantijie told the Johannesburg daily, adding that he had started hearing voices and hallucinating. "I was alone in a very dangerous situation. I tried to control myself and not show the world what was going on."

The daily reported that his employer, SA Interpreters, had asked him to interpret at the memorial. Jantjie claimed he has used his sign language skills at many conferences.

The South African government has reportedly launched an investigation.

kms/pfd (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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