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By News24 Wire

Wire Service

DeafSA threatens to sue comedian Lilly Slaptsilli for ‘mocking’ sign language interpreters

A Cape Town comedian has begged public forgiveness for spoofing a sign language interpreter during President Cyril Ramaphosa's recent address to the nation.

This came after DeafSA threatened legal action.

“It is offensive to mock anyone’s language, DeafSA respects all spoken languages used in South Africa, the same respect for SASL [South African Sign Language] is asked in return,” DeafSA national director Bruno Druchen warned on Saturday.

“On 14 May 2020, a drag artist and stand-up comedian inserted herself as an interpreter, while the President addressed the nation. Lilly Slaptsilli, dressed in a very colourful outfit, and used arbitrary signs, with no meaning (sic).

“Lilly did not only make fun of the profession but also mocked the president of South Africa. The deaf and SASL interpreters are disappointed to see the memes and posts that are being circulated on social media about sign language interpreters.”

Desmond Kgarebe, national chairperson of DeafSA, said: “We, as the deaf community, need access to information of what’s happening, especially in this time of pandemic. This post is a mockery of our language.”


The artist posted an apology.



“Okay, so that was an epic fail. I’ve taken down my post spoofing the length of the president’s speech. As a stand-up comic, I have always been super conscious to never offend.

“I even had the presence of mind to run the clip by my deaf friends, who thought it was ‘fun, no offence taken, post it’. However, it clearly offended some folk.

“Anyone who has seen my live shows or follows me on my page will know this to be true. I have paid out of my own pocket over the years for a sign language interpreter to interpret during shows where I knew there were deaf and hard-of-hearing guests.

“I offer my sincere apologies to the ENTIRE deaf community and the hard of hearing. Please forgive me. Understand this clearly … I am well aware that I am a public figure and treat that position with respect (sic).

“For those who are quick to judge, if you bother to troll my post with your free time, you will notice that my page is full of fun, joyful clips and stories, that I record on my own time at my own cost – simply to brighten someone’s day. In these tough times, my Facebook page is my only source of income – please take that into consideration.”

In its statement damning the post, DeafSA said its purpose was “to preserve, protect and promote the civil, human and linguistic rights of deaf, deafblind, hard-of-hearing and deafened people in South Africa”. The organisation said it had been at the forefront of training SASL interpreters.

“SASL interpreters are in the living rooms of all South Africans every day when our president or ministers address us. The public is now more aware of their work while we all fight this pandemic, but the deaf community is aggrieved after some internet and social media users mocked the SASL interpreting profession.”

Consulting lawyers

Druchen said: “SASL interpreters working to provide the deaf community with access to the latest Covid-19 information have been put under pressure by people mocking the profession online and are being made fun of through memes and online parody videos.

“To Lilly, we do not want to inhibit your freedom of expression especially at a time when we need some occasional levity, but with these freedoms, there are also shared responsibilities. The SASL interpreters aim to ensure that deaf persons are able to practise their basic human right to information through SASL interpreters.”

The director said: “DeafSA asks that the public do not mock the profession, which is already difficult enough to work as an interpreter, without having to deal with people that spread negativity or misinformation because of their role in the public eye (sic).

“DeafSA will be consulting with its lawyers, and deaf people are also protected by the Constitution — Clause 6 (5)(b) “promote and ensure respect for (i) all languages commonly used by communities in South Africa…”

DeafSA would formally submit a complaint to the Pan South African Language Board and the South African Human Rights Commission.

The organisation said it would also take the matter to the Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Rights Commission, which “is mandated to promote respect for and further the protection of the rights of cultural, religious and linguistic communities”.

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