Signer claims ‘schizophrenic’ moment at Mandela event
A South African sign language interpreter accused of miming nonsense as world leaders paid tribute to Nelson Mandela defended himself as a “champion” signer on Thursday, 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.
Jantjie was branded as a scurrilous fake after members of South Africa’s deaf community said his signing at Tuesday’s memorial ceremony had amounted to nothing more than “flapping his arms around”.
“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.
Millions of TV viewers saw Jantjie interpreting for leaders including US President Barack Obama and his South African counterpart, Jacob Zuma, at Tuesday’s Mandela memorial.
South Africa’s leading deaf association denounced Jantjie as a fake who was making up gestures as he stood yards away from world leaders.
The controversy has raised awkward questions over security at the event and cast a shadow over South Africa’s 10-day farewell to Mandela, whose remains were lying in state for a second day on Thursday at Pretoria’s Union Buildings, where he was sworn in as the nation’s first black president in 1994.
It also heaps more pressure on Zuma, who was booed by the crowd on Tuesday after a slew of corruption allegations against him and his administration. Footage from two large ANC events last year shows Jantjie signing on stage next to the president.