Is he also faking schizophrenia?
Interpreter explains bizarre signing at Mandela memorial by saying he saw angels, but expert says she’s never seen such gestures in psychotic signers
The man accused of faking sign interpretation while standing alongside world leaders like U.S. President Barack Obama at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service said Thursday he hallucinated that angels were entering the stadium, has schizophrenia and has been violent in the past.
Thamsanqa Jantjie said in a 45-minute interview with The Associated Press that his hallucinations began while he was interpreting and that he tried not to panic because there were “armed policemen around me.” He added that he was once hospitalized in a mental health facility for more than one and a half years.
The statements by Jantjie also raise serious security issues for Obama, other heads of state and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon who stood next to Jantjie as they made speeches at FNB Stadium in Soweto, Johannesburg’s famed black township. The ceremony honoured Mandela, the antiapartheid icon and former president who died on Dec. 5.
A South African deputy Cabinet minister, Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu, later held a news conference to announce that “a mistake happened” in the hiring of Jantjie. However, many questions remain, including who in the government hired the company that contracted Jantjie, how much money the government paid the company and Jantjie’s own involvement with the company — and even whether it really exists.
AP journalists who visited the address of the company that Jantjie provided found a different company there, whose managers said they
Quoted “This does not look like anything I have seen in signers with psychosis.” Jo Atkinson, clinical psychologist and researcher at the Center for Deafness, Cognition and Language, on Thamsanqa
knew nothing about SA Interpreters. A woman who answered the phone at a number that Jantjie provided confirmed that she worked at the company that hired him for the memorial service but declined comment and hung up.
Government officials said they have tried to track down the company that provided Jantjie but the owners “have vanished into thin air,” said Bogopane-Zulu, deputy minister of Women, Children and People with Disabilities.
She apologized to deaf people around the world who were offended by Jantjie’s incomprehensible signing and said an investigation is under way to determine how Jantjie was hired and what vetting process, if any, he underwent for his security clearance.
A medical expert with University College London cautioned that Jantjie’s unusual sign language didn’t look like it was caused by schizophrenia or another psychosis.
“The disruption of sign language in people with schizophrenia takes many forms but this does not look like anything I have seen in signers with psychosis,” said Jo Atkinson, who is a clinical psychologist and researcher at the Center for Deafness, Cognition and Language.