Deaf community outraged sign language interpreter for Barack Obama at Nelson Mandela memorial service was a ‘fake’

December 12, 2013 in News by The Manimal

Source: Courier Mail

HE SAID he has been violent in the past and experienced visions of “angels” at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service.

The man accused of faking sign language while standing alongside world leaders such as US President Barack Obama on Tuesday has told reporters he suffered a schizophrenic episode at the service.

Thamsanqa Jantjie said in a 45-minute interview with The Associated Press that his hallucinations began while he was interpreting and that he tried not to panic because there were “armed policemen around me.”

Mr Jantjie, who stood gesticulating one metre from Obama and others who spoke at Tuesday’s ceremony, insisted he was doing proper sign-language interpretation of the speeches of world leaders.

Sign language interpreter Thamsanqa Jantjie spoke to South African media today. Picture: AP

Sign language interpreter Thamsanqa Jantjie spoke to South African media today. Picture: AP Source: AP

But he also apologised for his performance that was widely panned by sign language experts as gibberish.

The statements by Mr Jantjie raise serious security issues for Obama, other heads of state and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon who made speeches at FNB Stadium in Soweto, Johannesburg’s black township.

“What happened that day, I see angels come to the stadium … I start realizing that the problem is here. And the problem, I don’t know the attack of this problem, how will it come,” Mr Jantjie said. “Sometimes I get violent on that place. Sometimes I will see things chasing me.”

“I was in a very difficult position,” he added. “And remember those people, the president and everyone, they were armed, there was armed police around me. If I start panicking I’ll start being a problem. I have to deal with this in a manner so that I mustn’t embarrass my country.”

Sign language experts said he was 'a complete fraud'....

Sign language experts said he was ‘a complete fraud’. Picture: AFP Source: AFP

Asked how often he had become violent, he said “a lot” while declining to provide details.

“I am very sorry, it’s the situation I found myself in,” Mr Jantjie told South African newspaper The Star. “Life is unfair. This illness is unfair. Anyone who doesn’t understand this illness will think that I’m just making this up.”

Several sign-language instructors accused the interpreter of a “rubbish” interpretation Wednesday.

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.

“He’s a complete fraud,” added Cara Loening, director of Sign Language Education and Development in Cape Town.

“He wasn’t even doing anything, There was not one sign there. Nothing. He was literally flapping his arms around.”

Another sign language interpreter said it looked as if he was

Another sign language interpreter said it looked as if he was “trying to swat a few flies away from his face and his head”. Picture: AFP Source: AFP

Mr Jantjie described his qualifications for being a sign language interpreter, but told The Star he works for an interpreting company that paid him $85 for Tuesday’s event.

The company refused to comment. Mr Jantjie said he is currently receiving treatment for schizophrenia.

The South African government said it is investigating the incident.

If you are experiencing difficulty contact Lifeline 13 11 14, beyondblue 1300 22 46 36, or Salvo Care Line 1300 36 36 22. 

A bold performance... particularly from the interpreter, it seems. Picture: AP

On-stage under bright lights. Picture: AP Source: AP