PRETORIA, South Africa -- The sign language interpreter used at Tuesday's memorial service for Nelson Mandela, and whose image was broadcast around the world as he shared a stage with world leaders including President Obama, was being called a "fake" by the Deaf Federation of South Africa.
Bruno Druchen, the national director of the federation, sent this tweet as the event was taking place at FNB Stadium on the outskirts of Johannesburg, South Africa:
Wilma Newhoudt, a deaf member of South Africa's parliament, tweeted this:
The Associated Press also reported the allegation Wednesday, saying that three sign language experts who watched the broadcast said the man was not signing in South African or American sign languages.
"It was horrible, an absolute circus, really really bad," Nicole Du Toit, an official sign language interpreter, told the AP. "Only he can understand those gestures."
USA TODAY was not able to independently confirm the allegations, which if proved true would be an enormous embarrassment to South African officials at a time when the nation is looking to celebrate the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela.
South Africa's government said it is preparing a statement.
Collins Chabane, one of South Africa's two presidency ministers, said the government is continuing to investigate the matter.
Many South Africans were unaware of the sign language controversy Wednesday. Rachel Kika, 47, a teacher from the northern cape was surpirsed.
"I would not think the government would put someone there who did not know what they were doing," she said. "It would be very disappointing. I hope they got the facts wrong. I don't know how that would happen when sign language is an official language."
Bronwen Wilson-Thomson, 50, was shocked such a thing would happen.
"It would be sad if true," she said. "It's not like they can't find people who know sign language."
She said a few years ago, a singer messed up the national anthem by singing it to a different tune during a cricket match. "I guess if we can have someone mess up the national anthem, we can have someone mess up the sign language," she said.
Watch excerpts from the interpreter signing here:
Marisol Bello reported from Pretoria; Kim Hjelmgaard from London.