Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The "Interpreter"

Nelson Mandela, the hero of South Africa, passed away at the age of 95 on December 5. As the first black president of South Africa, he was revered by many for his leadership against Apartheid. His memorial was last week, and thousands paid tribute to his life. Heads of state from across the globe appeared, including President Obama. Speeches were reverent and the respect for Mandela was apparent, but discussions of his memorial quickly turned to scandal when an interpreter on stage was found to be 100% incapable of interpreting.

This interpreter, Thamsanqa Jantjie, allegedly spoke of seeing angels and hallucinating other strange things. He even tried to leave the memorial without interpreting. But somehow, this unqualified, arguably unstable man was allowed onto the stage with the President of the United States. We aren't sure who gave him security clearance, or why. Whether he is really a threat or not, is questionable, but the real issue is: What if he had been? If he was hallucinating things, it is possible that he could have hallucinating something that would cause him to turn violent. The internet is teeming with reports about him being violent, because he had previously been accused of burning a man to death in "mob justice" in South Africa. Although burning someone to death is certainly violent, the alleged attack occurred during Apartheid and was apparently somewhat common. 

The real question is, then, should we be reasonably concerned that an unstable individual was allowed onto  the same stage (not just into the same room) as the President? Is this enough of a breach in security that we should be reconsidering our standards for security in public events such as memorials? Should we ever trust another state to conduct adequate security without also screening those involved? To be fair, we do not know WHO allowed this person to be an interpreter on the stage with Obama. It could have been our own security team. However, "threats" such as this one should spark conversation about the level of care taken in security of events outside of the U.S. While these events may be amusing to us now, they have potential to have devastating consequences if things turn sour.

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