Mandela sign language interpreter blames schizophrenia for his gestures
Sign language interpreter at Nelson Mandela’s funeral attributes poor performance to schizophrenia
Reuters in Johannesburg
A South African sign language interpreter accused of miming nonsense as world leaders paid tribute to Nelson Mandela defended himself as a "champion" signer yesterday, but said he suffered a schizophrenic episode during the event.
The interpreter, 34-year-old Thamsanqa Jantjie, told Johannesburg's Star newspaper he started hearing voices and hallucinating while on stage, resulting in gestures that made no sense to outraged deaf people around the world.
"There was nothing I could do. I was alone in a very dangerous situation. I tried to control myself and not show the world what was going on. I am very sorry. It's the situation I found myself in," he told the paper.
He did not know what triggered the attack, he added, saying he took medication for his schizophrenia.
Video: Mandela memorial sign language interpreter a 'fraud'
In a separate interview, the said he had seen angels. "What happened that day, I see angels come to the stadium ... I start realising that the problem is here. And the problem, I don't know the attack of this problem, how will it come. Sometimes I get violent on that place. Sometimes I will see things chasing me," Jantjie said.
"I was in a very difficult position," he added. "And remember those people, the president and everyone, they were armed, there was armed police around me. If I start panicking I'll start being a problem. I have to deal with this in a manner so that I mustn't embarrass my country."
South Africa's leading deaf association denounced Jantjie as a fake who was making up gestures.
The South African government admitted Jantjie was not a professional interpreter but played down security concerns at his sharing the podium with world leaders including US President Barack Obama.
"He was procured. He did not just rock up," Deputy Disabilities Minister Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu said. "Did a mistake happen? Yes. He became overwhelmed. He did not use the normal signs. We accept all that."
In a radio interview, Jantjie said he was happy with his performance at the memorial to the anti-apartheid hero, who died aged 95. "Absolutely, absolutely. I think that I've been a champion of sign language," he told Johannesburg's Talk Radio 702.
In another interview, he said he could not understand why people were complaining now, rather than after other events. "I'm not a failure. I deliver," he said, before hanging up.
Jantjie said he worked for a company called SA Interpreters, hired by the ANC for Tuesday's ceremony at Johannesburg's 95,000-seat Soccer City stadium. Bogopane-Zulu said its management had fled the publicity.
"We managed to get hold of them, and then we spoke to them wanting some answers and they vanished into thin air," she said. "It's a clear indication that over the years they have managed to get away with this."