JOHANNESBURG — The South African sign language interpreter accused of using fake signs at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service this week said he suffered a schizophrenic episode at the event during which he hallucinated and heard voices.
Thamsanqa Jantjie made the admissions to Johannesburg’s Star newspaper Thursday after allegations that have led to him being called an impostor by sign language experts.
“There was nothing I could do. I was alone in a very dangerous situation,” Jantjie said. “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.”
An interpreter with the Deaf Federation of South Africa, however, says Mandela’s service wasn’t the first time Jantjie was criticized for his work interpreting at an event. Francois Deysel, a sign language interpreter with DFSA, said he watched a video of Jantjie signing at the 100th anniversary celebration of the African National Conference, South Africa’s ruling party, in January 2012.
After watching the video, Deysel and his colleagues concluded, “There was no sign language used. It was only slapping of hands of movement of arms.”
Deysel said the federation notified the ANC and recommended that Jantjie needed to get basic sign language training.
When Deysel saw that it was Jantjie interpreting at the Mandela memorial, “my reaction was embarrassment for this country that we’re going to go through by having this person on stage,” he said.
The ANC says on its website that the government — not the ANC — hired Jantjie for the Mandela memorial. ANC also said it “had not been aware of any of (the) complaints regarding the quality of services, qualification or reported illnesses of Mr. Jantjie.”
The Mandela memorial incident prompted an apology Thursday by a South African Cabinet minister who said a mistake was made in hiring Jantjie. Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu apologized to South Africa’s deaf community during a news conference but denied that the country felt embarrassed by the controversy. see more