UK & World News

  • 12 December 2013, 21:40

Govt Admits Mistake Over Mandela Signer

Hiring a sign language interpreter who claims to have had a schizophrenic episode while translating at the Mandela memorial was a mistake, the government has said.

Thamsanqa Jantjie, who was criticised for apparently making "meaningless gestures" while interpreting the speeches of world leaders on stage, said he takes medication for the condition.

He said he did not†know whether it was the scale of the event or the happiness he felt about being involved that triggered the episode.

The 34-year-old, who was pictured signing next to the likes of US President Barack Obama, claimed he suddenly lost concentration and started hearing voices and hallucinating.

He also had visions of angels coming into the stadium and was trying not to panic because there were "armed policemen around me".

Mr†Jantjie†said the episode impaired his ability to hear things properly and interpret what was being said, but he did not feel able to leave so continued to sign words and phrases that did not make sense.

He apologised and was quoted by South Africa's Star newspaper as saying: "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.

"Life is unfair. This illness is unfair. Anyone who doesn't understand this illness will think that I'm just making this up."

Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu, deputy minister of women, children and people with disabilities, accepted the government had made a mistake and apologised to deaf people around the world.

She said an investigation into how Mr Jantjie came to be hired was under way - but said the owners of the company which provided his services had "vanished into thin air".

A statement from the African National Congress confirmed that the party had "utilised the services" of Mr Jantjie†in the past, but added that he was hired by the government for the memorial service.

"The processes that were followed to procure Mr†Jantjie's services were thus government processes and not ANC processes," the statement said.

"Because of this, the African National Congress is not in a position to offer a view on how his services were secured by government.

"It is important to make the point that ... the African National Congress had not been aware of any complaints regarding the quality of services, qualifications or reported illnesses of Mr Jantjie."

Concerns over the interpreter had been raised by deaf people watching the service at Johannesburg's FNB Stadium.

Bruno Druchen, the national director of the Deaf Federation of South Africa, said he "was moving his hands around but there was no meaning in what he used his hands for".

South African parliament member Wilma Newhoudt, a member of the ruling party, also said the interpreter communicated nothing with his hand and arm movements.

Both Mr Druchen and Ms Newhoudt are deaf.

Three sign language experts said the man was not signing in South African or American sign languages.

South African sign language covers all of the country's 11 official languages, according to the federation.

Nicole Du Toit, an official sign language interpreter who also watched the broadcast, said the man on stage was an "embarrassment".

Mr Jantjie, who was accused of being an imposter, which led to security concerns, claims he is a genuine interpreter and a "champion of sign language" who was paid 850 Rand (£50)†for one day's work.

Asked about his interpreting skills, he 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 they should have clarified it a long time ago, not at this crucial time for our country."

He says he has photographs of him working next to various people including President Jacob Zuma in the past.

He said felt honoured to be part of the historic event on Tuesday, but the president's office has contacted him to find out who recommended him for the job.

Meanwhile, the South African government has said it will not release photographs of Mr Mandela lying in state, and has urged people to avoid a picture posted on the internet which purports to show his body.

An official statement said: "If this content exists, government calls on people not to view it and to delete it from their timelines."

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