Interpreter plays vital role

Monde Wabanie
Monde Wabanie

Ordained minister Wabanie does his bit to relax both witnesses and accused

He interprets your words into a language you don’t understand – and you have no option but to place your life-changing story in the hands of the stranger sitting next to you.

Luckily, Monde Wabanie’s compassion shines through, causing witnesses to relax as he translates their every word from English to Afrikaans and then Xhosa.

It is his love of languages, mixed with a certain degree of empathy, that makes Wabanie, 50, – known affectionately as “Jeffrey” – so good at what he does.

And for the next seven weeks he will be doing just that as the Panayiotou murder trial unfolds in the Port Elizabeth High Court.

The senior interpreter has been in the game for 25 years, having started out at the Queenstown District Court in 1991.

He is also a minister with the United Reformed Church of South Africa, and it was his role interpreting important church meetings that led him to interpret court cases.

Having grown up in a small farming community near Joubertina, Wabanie said he had become more comfortable speaking Afrikaans than his home language Xhosa.

“My Xhosa was really not that good,” he said, noting that it had improved only when he was sent off to high school in the former Transkei.

He completed his degree in theology at the Theological Seminary in Mthatha in 1988.

“I grew up in a very religious environment. My parents laid down a strong, Christian foundation for us,” he said.

He began preaching in Afrikaans and Xhosa in Bedford and Adelaide.

“Whenever there were big meetings I was used as the interpreter.”

In 1991, a friend introduced him to the chief magistrate at the Queenstown Magistrate’s Court. He worked in the district division for about a month before moving to the regional court division.

He joined the Grahamstown High Court as an interpreter before moving to the Port Elizabeth High Court in 2000.

“I will never forget one of the first rape cases I was involved in. A woman told how she was being raped just metres from the police van which had been dispatched to look for her.

“She could see the van but was unable to scream,” Wabanie said. “It was a very emotional case.” Wabanie is small, but his personality and confidence tower over people.

He knows he is good at what he does.

“What makes me stand out is the manner in which I treat the witness in the box, be it the accused or the victim.”

In the Panayiotou case, victim Jayde Panayiotou’s sister, Toni Inggs, was overheard commending Wabanie for making her feel at ease.

When witnesses cry, he quickly hands them a tissue or a glass of water. A good memory is vital. “There are still phrases or terms I don’t understand. We learn something new every day,” Wabanie said.

“When the pathologist testified to [Jayde’s] injuries I had to ask him to use layman’s terms.

“As good as you may be, you are not immune to mistakes. And it is vital to interpret every single word correctly.”

The trial continues on Monday.

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