In these combination pictures taken Tuesday, President Obama delivers a speech next to a sign language interpreter during the memorial service for late South African President Nelson Mandela.
(Photo: ALEXANDER JOE, AFP/Getty Images)
(USA TODAY) -- The White House is declining to comment on reports in South Africa that the man who provided alleged sign interpretation of President Obama's tribute to Nelson Mandela on Tuesday is a fake.
"He's a complete fraud," Cara Loening, director of Sign Language Education and Development in Cape Town told the AFP wire service.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest referred questions to the South African government.
It would be "a shame" if this incident became "a distraction" from the many tributes to Mandela, including the one from Obama, Earnest said.
"This was an historic event," Earnest said.
Loening added: "He wasn't even doing anything, There was not one sign there. Nothing. He was literally flapping his arms around."
At times he looked like he was "trying to swat a few flies away from his face and his head," Loening said.
"The deaf community in South Africa are completely outraged and nobody knows who he is," she said. "We can't find a name or anything. The organizations who have accredited interpreters do not know him at all."
AFP provided photographic evidence against the interpreter, who at one point appeared to be straightening his tie.
Yet there he was standing next to the president of the United States.
The incident is sure to raise questions about security at the Mandela event.