Fake interpreter at Nelson Mandela funeral said he saw angels, had schizophrenic episode

By Daniel S Levine,

The bizarre story of a man who posed as a sign language interpreter at the memorial for Nelson Mandela Tuesday in South Africa has just taken another strange turn. After being called out as an imposter on Wednesday, the man, identified as Thamsanqa Jantjie, spoke with the press to explain his actions. He claimed that he had a schizophrenic episode, saw angels and even heard voices during the ceremony.

On Wednesday, the Deaf Federation of South Africa and a government official said that Jantjie was a fake and that the signs he was giving as President Jacob Zuma, U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders were not real signs at all. They all meant nothing in any recognized sign language. He even stood motionless, showing no facial expressions, a vital part of any sign language.

“This ‘fake interpreter’ has made a mockery of South African sign language and has disgraced the South African sign language-interpreting profession,” Bruno Druchen, the national director of DeafSA, wrote on Facebook. “It is a total mockery of the language.”

Now, the New York Times is reporting that Jantjie is speaking out, telling the Associated Press, “What happened that day, I see angels come to the stadium.” He admitted that he suffers from schizophrenia.

“I start realizing that the problem is here,” he said. “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 that he could not panic, because of all the security around him. He also told the BBC that it was not “deliberate.”

In the AP interview, he asked for forgiveness, but in an interview with Talk Radio 702 in Johannesburg, he defended himself. “Absolutely, absolutely. I think that I’ve been a champion of sign language,” he said, calling himself “a patient receiving treatment in schizophrenia.”

The government is still trying to figure out how Jantjie got into such a major world event, but it turns out that he has interpreted events for the African National Congress, the ruling party in South Africa, before. According to the BBC, there is footage of him standing next to Zuma at two other ANC events.

The BBC also reports that the government is investigating the incident.

On Thursday, the government said that Jantjie was “not a professional sign language interpreter” and “the English was a bit too much for him.” Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu, the deputy minister for women, children and people with disabilities, said that the company that suggested him “vanished into thin air.”

image: screenshot


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