South Africa admits error over 'schizophrenic' Mandela signer

Thu Dec 12, 2013 3:24pm EST
Email This Article |
Share This Article
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
| Print This Article | Single Page
[-] Text [+]

By Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - 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.

"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.

The government admitted Jantjie was not a professional interpreter but played down security concerns at his sharing the podium with world leaders including U.S. President Barack Obama at the memorial on Tuesday.

"He was procured. He did not just rock up," Deputy Disabilities Minister Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu told a news conference. "Did a mistake happen? Yes. He became overwhelmed. He did not use the normal signs. We accept all that."

After the memorial, South Africa's leading deaf association denounced him as a fake, making up gestures to be put into the mouths of Obama and his South African counterpart Jacob Zuma.

Jantjie said he did not know what triggered the attack and said he took medication for his schizophrenia.

At the White House in Washington, a Secret Service spokesman said it was up to the host organizing to handle program items such as stage participants or sign language interpreters.   Continued...

India's President Pranab Mukherjee speaks at the podium as a sign language interpreter (R) punches the air beside him during a memorial service for late South African President Nelson Mandela at the FNB soccer stadium in Johannesburg December 10, 2013. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach