The South African citizens and law society have expressed their concern regarding the poor quality of the interpreting profession in the country after one of the most pervasive trials in the South African media was severely affected by an Afrikaans interpreter. On Monday 5th, the murder trial against the South African paralympian athlete, Oscar Pistorius, was underway in Pretoria High Court when one of the State’s witnesses had difficulties giving her testimony in Afrikaans due to inappropriate interpretation services, after which she had to continue her testimony in English.
Michelle Burger, a neighbour living in the same gated community where the murder took place, took the stand on Monday as the first of the State’s witnesses. As an Afrikaans speaker she decided to present her testimony in her mother tongue and use the court interpreter that was being provided for such an occasion. The Afrikaans interpreter translated Burger’s appreciation of the evening as “confusing”, a point on which Pistorius’s lawyer returned to later, suggesting that the witness may not be sure about all the facts. At this point, Burger herself had to intervene and stated that the words that the interpreter was choosing did not mean exactly what she was saying. In the end, the witness chose to switch to English entirely.
A Concerning Problem
CP Fourie, attorney and former president of the Law Society of the Northern Province, expressed his concern that the Afrikaans interpretation industry is not up to the required standards. During an interview with Morning Live, the attorney stated that the interpreter struggled with the languages, which resulted in the failure to choose the appropriate words in English to convey the meaning of what the witness was saying in Afrikaans. Finally, he asserted that poor interpretations result in the loss of important subtleties, which can be of great importance during a murder trial such as the Pistorius one.
Previous Related Cases
Other related cases include the episode which took place last December, when the South African government hired an inappropriate sign language interpreter for Nelson Mandela’s memorial. The ceremony, which took place in Johannesburg and involved global leaders from all over the world, was interpreted by Thamsanqa Jantjie, who later confessed to suffer from schizophrenic episodes that hindered the interpretation of the words which were being said during the ceremony.