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Mandela interpreter claims schizophrenic episode

6:58 AM, Dec 12, 2013   |    comments
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JOHANNESBURG -- The South African sign language interpreter accused of using "fake" signs at Nelson Mandela's memorial service this week said he suffered a schizophrenic episode at the event during which he hallucinated and heard voices.

Thamsanqa Jantjie made the admissions to Johannesburg's Star newspaper Thursday following allegations that have led to him being called an impostor.

"There was nothing I could do. I was alone in a very dangerous situation," Jantjie said. "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."

In a separate interview with the Associated Press, Jantjie said he saw visions of angels coming to the stadium. He also told the AP that he has previously been violent.

The AP interview noted that Jantjie stood approximately three feet from President Obama during Tuesday's ceremony to honor Mandela.

Jantjie told the Star newspaper that he was paid R850, or about $85, to interpret at the ceremony that was broadcast around the world and was attended by dozens of world leaders, many of whom Jantjie shared the stage with at the FNB Stadium outside Johannesburg.

Jantjie told 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," he said.

He said that as a result of the episode his ability to hear and interpret was impaired, but that he felt that given the gravity of the occasion he couldn't leave.

On Tuesday, sign language experts in South Africa and elsewhere claimed Jantjie's interpretations amounted to "gibberish."

"He wasn't even doing anything, There was not one sign there. Nothing. He was literally flapping his arms around," Cara Loening, director of Sign Language Education and Development in Cape Town, told the Agence France-Presse news service.

Asked if he was happy his with performance by local radio station Talk Radio 702 on Thursday, Jantjie said: "Absolutely! What I have been doing I think I have been a champion of sign language. I have intrepreted many big events. Not only the event that's in question now," Jantjie said.

He said these events included political press conferences and the funeral of Albertina Sisulu, the widow of anti-apartheid activist and Robben Islander Walter Sisulu.

He refused to explain details of his qualifications and referred such questions to the company that booked him for the event, SA Interpreters. Not a lot is known about this company.

Authorities in South Africa have pledged to investigate the allegations.

"Government is looking into this matter, but has not been able to conclude this inquiry due to the demanding schedule of organizing events related to the state funeral," Collins Chabane, a minister in the South African presidency, told reporters in Pretoria on Wednesday.

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