Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 December 2014

Nelson Mandela: Sign language interpreter accused of faking gestures 'may have suffered schizophrenic episode'

The South African sign language interpreter accused of faking gestures during the memorial service for Nelson Mandela has spoken out for the first time to defend what he called a “champion” performance.

The man, who has been identified as 34-year-old Thamsanqa Jantjie, said in a radio interview that he was happy with the job he did on Tuesday, when he was seen by millions around the world standing alongside US President Barack Obama and other leaders.

Asked if he was pleased with his performance, he told South Africa’s Talk Radio 702: “Absolutely, absolutely. I think that I've been a champion of sign language.”

Yet in another interview, Mr Jantjie told Johannesburg's Star newspaper he started hearing voices in his head and hallucinating while up on stage.

He said this made it difficult for him to hear what was actually being said, and could have accounted for the gestures which “had no meaning” and led to Bruno Druchen, the national director of the Deaf Federation of South Africa, branding him a “fake”.

Mr Jantjie told the paper he was receiving treatment for schizophrenia, and apologised if the episode had offended deaf people around the world:

“There was nothing I could do,” he said. “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.”

The revelations about the interpreter’s unusual gestures led to calls for him to explain himself on Wednesday. Experts said he seemed to show an alarming lack of basic knowledge, failing to complete basic signs such as “thank you” or “Mandela”.

The government, responsible for organising the mass memorial, said it had no idea who he was. The ruling African National Congress (ANC) also denied knowing about him – even though footage from two large ANC events last year clearly showed him signing on stage next to Zuma.

Mr Jantjie said he worked for a company called SA Interpreters which had been hired by the ANC for Tuesday's ceremony in Johannesburg, and that he had been paid $85 for the performance.

The death of the 95-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mandela a week ago today triggered an outpouring of grief and emotion around the world.

His body will lie in state for a third day on Friday before being flown to the Eastern Cape, where it will be buried on Sunday at his ancestral home in Qunu, 450 miles (700 km) south of Johannesburg.

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