002 11.12.2013 Interpreter Thamsanqa Jantjie, who was interpreting at the memorial service of late former president Nelson Mandela at the FNB stadium, speaks at his home in Bramfischerville on what may may had caused him concentration as he was interpreting. Picture: Itumeleng English

Johannesburg - 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, has 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 whether it was the magnitude of what he was doing or the happiness he felt throughout the day that 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 loud voices in his head, things that impaired his ability to hear well and interpret what was being said, he couldn’t 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 in a document at his house show him on duty next to various people, including President Jacob Zuma.

When SA Interpreters, the company Jantjie works for, told him on Monday that 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 investigate what happened.

The Star spoke to SA Interpreters’ Thoneka Ngqase, but she asked that she be contacted later because she was in a meeting. She never answered her phone after that or responded to SMSes.


Meanwhile, Andries van Niekerk, spokesman for the National Institute for the Deaf (NID), told Sapa that what happened during the memorial service was unacceptable.

“The interpreter at the service was clearly not competent and did not use hand shapes, movements or facial expressions typical of South African sign language,” he said.

“The NID is saddened that the deaf in attendance (at the service) could not understand what other great statesmen said about the legacy that the father of our nation leaves behind.”

Van Niekerk said the deaf community was outraged. – Additional reporting by Sapa

Schizophrenia in a nutshell

A mental disorder characterised by a breakdown of thought processes and by impaired emotional responses.

Common symptoms are delusions including paranoia and auditory hallucinations, disorganised thinking reflected in speech, and a lack of emotional intelligence.

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