The man who has been blasted on social networks and accused of providing “fake” sign language interpretation at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service says he suffered a schizophrenic episode.
Thamsanqa Jantjie said his schizophrenia, for which he takes medication, had not only left many people angry and accusing him of being an impostor, but it was also the reason he was medically boarded a few years ago, resulting in him having to rely on a social grant now.
He doesn’t know what might have triggered the attack while on stage.
Suddenly he lost concentration, and started hearing voices and hallucinating. Afterwards, it all went downhill and he just signed things that didn’t make sense.
“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.”
Jantjie said that although he was having an episode and continued seeing things and hearing voices in his head, he could not leave, so he stayed on and continued to sign things that didn’t make sense.
“Life is unfair. This illness is unfair. Anyone who doesn’t understand this illness will think that I’m just making this up,” he said.
The 34-year-old man makes ends meet by interpreting, and pictures at his house show him on duty next to various people, including President Zuma.
When SA Interpreters, the company Jantjie works for, told him on Monday he would interpret at the memorial service, Jantjie said he felt honoured to be part of that historic event. He was to be paid R850 for the whole day’s job, he said.
The office of the Presidency has since contacted Jantjie to find out who recommended him for the job. Minister in the Presidency, Collins Chabane, said the government would probe what happened.
The chairman of the SA Translators’ Institute (Sati), Johan Blaauw, said the same man was used to interpret proceedings at the ANC elective conference in Mangaung last year and there were complaints against him then.
“The ANC did not do anything,” said Blaauw. “I’m afraid this thing has left the whole of South Africa with egg on its face.”
Blaauw said: “That person was not using sign language, not even signs accepted in the sign language.”
Sign language semantics differed from country to country, basic grammar of sign language remained relatively similar, he said.
Additional reporting by Sapa