‘I was under attack’: Interpreter At Nelson Mandela Memorial Blames Schizophrenia

‘I was under attack’: Interpreter At Nelson Mandela Memorial Blames Schizophrenia

By Idoreyin Sampson | Sub-Editor on December 12, 2013


The man accused by South African Deaf Association of being a fake and making up signs at Nelson Mandela’s Memorial Service on Tuesday, Thamsanqa Jantjie, has blamed his performance which angered deaf people in his country and around the world, to schizophrenia.

Jantjie in an interview with South Africa’s Star newspaper claims that he is qualified but suddenly suffered an attack an was hallucinating and hearing voices and he is receiving treatment for the disease.

READ: ‘A Complete Fraud’: Sign Interpreter at Nelson Mandela Memorial Reportedly A Fake

“There was nothing I could do,” Jantjie, claims. “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.”

Fake interpreter The Trent2
U.S. President Barack Obama addresses the crowd while the interpreter, Thamsanqa Jantjie stands next to him at the Nelson Mandela Memorial which held at FBN Stadium in Soweto, Tuesday, December 11, 2013 Photo: Reuters

It was a deeply embarrassing situation on Tuesday as millions of viewers around the world watched as Jantjie, according to experts could not even make basic signs as “thank you” or “Mandela”.

The Guardian reports:

Jantjie said the episode meant he was seeing things and hearing loud voices in his head, impairing his ability to hear and interpret the speeches. But he could not leave so he persevered. “Life is unfair. This illness is unfair. Anyone who doesn’t understand this illness will think that I’m just making this up.”

He did not know what triggered the attack, he added, saying he took medication for his schizophrenia.

But in a radio interview, Jantjie said that he was happy with his performance at the memorial to the anti-apartheid struggle leader, who died a week ago aged 95. “Absolutely,” he told Talk 702 radio. “What I’ve been doing, I think I’ve been a champion of sign language. I’ve interpreted in many big events. I’ve interpreted in MaSisulu’s [Albertina Sisulu’s] funeral. I interpreted at the Brics conference.”

On Wednesday South Africa‘s leading deaf association denounced him as a fake, saying he was inventing signs, and described the episode as an insult to deaf people and Mandela himself.

Asked how he felt about being the centre of such scrutiny, Jantjies said: “It is very sad at this present moment because I believe that it was an issue that had to be dealt with earlier. If the Deaf Federation of South Africa have an issue with my interpreting it was supposed to be in clarity a long time ago, not during this crucial time for our country.”

He added: “If I interpreted wrong, why is it an issue now? Why wasn’t it an issue when I was doing interpretation at MaSisulu’s funeral and many big events in South Africa?”

Jantjie claimed he worked for a company called “SA Interpreters” which had been hired by the African National Congress for Tuesday’s ceremony. Asked if he has a formal qualification, he replied: “Yes, absolutely.”


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