Posted on December 13, 2013

Schizophrenic Fake Signer Who Stood Next to President Obama at Mandela Memorial ‘Was Once Charged with Murder and Was Sentenced to Three Years for Theft’

Jill Reilly, Daily Mail (London), December 13, 2013

A South African sign language interpreter accused of making up his own signs during a memorial to Nelson Mandela has faced charges for murder, rape and kidnapping, it was claimed today.

Thamsanqa Jantjie, 34, stood just a few feet from from President Obama and others who spoke at Tuesday’s ceremony that was broadcast around the world.

South African news website eNCA reported that Mr Jantjie, who has schizophrenia, has faced charges for rape (1994), theft (1995), housebreaking (1997), malicious damage to property (1998), murder, attempted murder and kidnapping (2003) charges.

The website said it was unclear if the 2003 murder case was ever concluded as the court file was found to be empty during their investigations.

It also reported that many of the charges brought against him were dropped, allegedly because he was mentally unfit to stand trial.

Mr Jantjie was acquitted on the rape charge, but he was convicted of theft for which he was sentenced to three years in prison. The channel could not ascertain if he served the jail time.

MailOnline has contacted the NPA for a comment on the claims.

Mr Jantjie was today approached by a reporter for the Associated press who asked him about the criminal charges, but he refused to comment.

The news is a further embarrassment to South African officials at it was revealed that Mr Jantjie had faked sign language at the memorial event.

Yesterday Mr Jantjie revealed he may have suffered a schizophrenic episode on stage after claiming he saw ‘angels’ at the event.

He said 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 year.

He said he worked for a company called SA Interpreters which had been hired by the ruling African National Congress (ANC) for Tuesday’s ceremony at Johannesburg’s 95,000-seat Soccer City stadium.

He said he was paid 85 dollars (£52) for interpreting the event.

But he also apologized for his performance that has been dismissed by many sign-language experts as gibberish.

‘I would like to tell everybody that if I’ve offended anyone, please, forgive me,’ Mr Jantjie said in his concrete home in a low-income Johannesburg neighborhood

‘But what I was doing, I was doing what I believe is my calling, I was doing what I believe makes a difference.’

‘What happened that day, I see angels come to the stadium . . . I start realizing that the problem is here. And the problem, I don’t know the attack of this problem, how will it comes. Sometimes I react violent on that place. Sometimes I will see things that chase me,’ Mr Jantjie said.

‘I was in a very difficult position,’ he added.

‘And remember those people, the president and everyone, they were armed, there was armed police around me. If I start panicking I’ll start being a problem. I have to deal with this in a manner so that I mustn’t embarrass my country.’

Asked how often he had become violent, he said ‘a lot’ while declining to provide details.

Mr Jantjie said he was due on the day of the ceremony to get a regular six-month mental health checkup to determine whether the medication he takes was working, whether it needed to be changed or whether he needed to be kept at a mental health facility for treatment.

He said he did not tell the company that contracted him for the event for about $85 that he was due for the checkup, but said the owner of SA Interpreters in Johannesburg was aware of his condition.

Jantjie said he received one year of sign language interpretation at a school in Cape Town, and insisted that he has previously interpreted at many events without anyone complaining.

The AP showed Jantjie video footage of him interpreting on stage at the Mandela memorial service.

‘I don’t remember any of this at all,’ he said.

Today a South African deputy Cabinet minister admitted ‘a mistake happened’ in hiring Mr Jantjie.

Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu said that government officials have tried to track down the company that provided Mr Jantjie but that the owners ‘have vanished into thin air.’

Deputy Minister of Women, Children and People with Disabilities Bogopane-Zulu apologized to deaf people offended around the world by what they say was Jantjie’s incomprehensible signing.

She says an investigation is under way to determine how Jantjie received a security clearance.

South Africa’s leading deaf association had yesterday claimed he was a fake and said he was inventing signs.

However, in a radio interview Mr Jantjie said he was happy with his performance at the memorial to the anti-apartheid hero, who died a week ago aged 95.

He told Talk Radio 702: ‘Absolutely, absolutely. I think that I’ve been a champion of sign language.’

According to The Sun, Twitter users with sign language knowledge claimed the interpreter repeatedly used signs for ‘donkey’, ‘lightning bolt’ and ‘prawns’.

Eye Witness News meanwhile has reported trained sign language trainers said he also made reference to ‘rocking horses’.

Braam Jordaan, a deaf South African and board member of the World Deaf Federation, has said he believed the interpreter was making up signs as he went along.

The government, which was in charge of the mass memorial, has said it did not know who he was.

The ANC has also denied knowing about him although footage from two large ANC events last year showed him signing on stage next to President Jacob Zuma.

The controversy has come during South Africa’s 10-day farewell to Mandela, whose remains were lying in state for a second day today at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, where he was sworn in as the nation’s first black president in 1994.

The death of Nobel peace laureate Mandela triggered an outpouring of grief and emotion–as well as celebration and thanksgiving–among his 53 million countrymen and millions more around the world.

His body will lay in state for a third day tomorrow before being flown to the Eastern Cape, where he will be buried on Sunday at his ancestral home in Qunu, 450 miles south of Johannesburg.