News / Africa

South Africa Admits Mistake Over 'Schizophrenic' Mandela Signer

Thamsanqa Jantjie gestures at his home during an interview with The Associated Press in Johannesburg, South Africa, Dec. 12, 2013.
Thamsanqa Jantjie gestures at his home during an interview with The Associated Press in Johannesburg, South Africa, Dec. 12, 2013.
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.

Besides the security issues, the controversy has cast a shadow over South Africa's 10-day farewell to its first black president, who died a week ago aged 95.

It also heaps more pressure on Zuma, who is fighting a slew of corruption allegations against him and his administration, and who was booed by the crowd on Tuesday.

Footage from two large African National Congress [ANC] events last year shows Jantjie signing on stage next to Zuma, although the ruling party said it had no idea who he was.

Company 'vanished'

In a radio interview, Jantjie said he was happy with his performance at the memorial.

“Absolutely, absolutely. I think that I've been a champion of sign language,” he told Johannesburg's Talk Radio 702.

When contacted by Reuters, he said he could not understand why people were complaining now, rather than after other events. “I'm not a failure. I deliver,” he said.

The publicity surrounding Jantjie's unconventional gestures - experts said he did not know even basic signs such as “thank you” or “Mandela” - sparked a frenetic hunt for him and his employers.

Jantjie said he worked for a company called SA Interpreters, hired by the ANC for Tuesday's ceremony at Johannesburg's 95,000-seat Soccer City stadium.

Attempts by Reuters to track down the company were unsuccessful. Bogopane-Zulu said its management had fled the glare of publicity, with the suggestion that it had been providing sub-standard interpreters for some time.

“We managed to get hold of them, and then we spoke to them wanting some answers and they vanished into thin air,” she said. “It's a clear indication that over the years they have managed to get away with this.”

The death of Nobel peace laureate Mandela has triggered an outpouring of grief and emotion, combined with celebration and thanksgiving, among his 53 million countrymen and millions more around the world.

Thousands of mourners continued to queue to say goodbye to Mandela in Pretoria, although that too has not been without its problems.

A lack of drinking water and toilets caused several people to pass out on Wednesday, and on Thursday social media reports emerged saying some mourners had taken photographs of Mandela's body, defying the wishes of his family and the government.

An official statement urged people to delete any pictures of Mandela's remains if they existed. It also said there were no plans to release an official photograph of Mandela lying in state.

His body will lie in state for a third day on Friday before being flown to the Eastern Cape, where it will be buried on Sunday at his ancestral home in Qunu, 700 kilometers [450 miles] south of Johannesburg.

You May Like

US Border Patrol Union Accused of Taking Sides on Immigration

Report alleges agents leaking info to immigration opponents, appearing at their private events; Center for Immigration Studies director defends agents' actions More

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Reporting from Somali capital for past decade, Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal has been working at one of Mogadishu's leading radio stations covering parliament More

Video Rights Monitor: Hate Groups' Use of Internet to Inflame, Recruit Growing

Wiesenthal Center's Abraham Cooper says extremists have become skilled at celebrating violence, ideology on Web More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Interneti
X
Mike O'Sullivan
June 30, 2015 8:20 PM
Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Syrians Flee IS Advance in Hasaka

The Syrian government said Monday it has taken back one of several districts in Hasaka overrun by Islamic State militants. But continued fighting elsewhere in the northern city has forced thousands of civilians from their homes. In this report narrated by Bill Rodgers, VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer describes the scene in Amouda, where some of the displaced are taking refuge.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video S. Korea Christians Protest Gay Rights Festival

The U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating marriage equality nationwide has energized gay rights supporters around the world. Gay rights remain a highly contentious issue in a key U.S. ally, South Korea, where police did a deft job Sunday of preventing potential clashes between Christian protesters and gay activists. Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.
Video

Video In Syrian Crisis, Social Media Offer Small Comforts

Za’atari, a makeshift city in Jordan, may be the only Syrian refugee camp to tweet its activities, in an effort to keep donors motivated as the war in Syria intensifies and the humanitarian crisis deepens. Inside the camp, families say mobile phone applications help hold together families that are physically torn apart. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.

VOA Blogs