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Mournful, Grateful, Hopeful: Remembering Nelson Mandela


M. Richard Horrellschmitz

President Nelson Rolihahla Mandela, the First Citizen of South Africa, is a name synonymous with peace, justice, belief, conviction and compassion.  His name has been a household name for most, if not all, of my lifetime.  He stood not only as a symbol of peace and unification in South Africa, but the world over.  We all lost something since his passing.

And at the time of his passing—at the time when we all came together to pay our respects to the man who taught us how to be better people—at the time at last he was to be honored as he should have so long ago, the world became fixated on someone stealing from him his moment of honor.  Of course the incident to which I am referring is the “fake interpretation” of his eulogies.  With the eyes of the world upon him, this man pretended to use sign language and, in so doing, insulted those for whom, and the topic about which, he was interpreting.

Many have referred to this incident as a travesty for the Deaf the world over.  And it is.  Many have said this is yet another injustice against Nelson Mandela—to have his funeral overshadowed by something so… so needless and selfish…   And it is.   It is unfair that this man who has changed the world, changed the lives of millions of people, changed the way we understand compassion and forgiveness should have to still be fighting injustice.

But, in death, as in life, Nelson Mandela is still unifying people.  He has brought to the fore the harsh reality that so many millions of people are marginalized by social indifference and language inequality.  Governments, news agencies, and people who have otherwise never concerned themselves with the language frustrations so many Deaf people face are now suddenly aware, concerned, and ready to help!

There was no other event, no single moment, that would have brought so many people together.  There was no other person whose funeral could have brought so many together.  And, thus, no other time when so much of the world would rally behind the cause of language equality for the Deaf.

Thanks to Convo, and a team of phenomenal interpreters, we, the Deaf Community can now see the eloquent words of General Thanduxolo Mandela, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, and U.S. President Barack Obama as they eulogize the “last great hero” of the 20th Century.


Please watch all of the videos in ASL and in International Sign Language and see what Nelson Mandela meant to the world in our own language!

With that; Instead of anger for the audacity of this “interpreter” to take advantage of such a solemn moment, and of such a marginalized segment of the world’s societies, we should express gratitude that Nelson Mandela is still fighting along those who are left outside of the places of power.  And this is not just about we American Deaf—but the World Deaf will benefit from this.  Because this is how we, the Deaf World, can honor his memory.

I am mournful of his passing, grateful for his presence in our world, and hopeful that the long-lasting impact of Nelson Mandela’s life will have far-reaching effect.

Warmly and sincerely,

Just me


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