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Interpreter "Saw Angels" During Mandela Ceremony

posted 12 Dec 2013, 09:37 by Mpelembe   [ updated 12 Dec 2013, 09:38 ]

Thamsanqa Jantjie, the sign language interpreter accused of miming nonsense during the Nelson Mandela tribute, defends himself but admits to schizophrenic episode during the event.

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA (DECEMBER 12, 2013) (NBC) -  A South African sign language interpreter accused of miming nonsense as world leaders paid tribute to Nelson Mandela defended himself on Thursday (December 12), but said he suffered a schizophrenic episode during the event.

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The interpreter, 34-year-old Thamsanqa Jantjie, told the media he started hearing voices and hallucinating while on stage, resulting in gestures that made no sense to outraged deaf people around the world.

"I won't say that it was attack as such. What I will say is that where I lost my mind because while I was busy interpreting I saw angels come on the stadium -- come from the sky, coming on the stadium. Then, I start being scared. And that moment, I just tried to control myself for the sake of the platform [on which] I was standing," he explained.

"On those clips I was looking on. . . I've seen there was many mistakes and those mistakes I said my interpretation was not different at most from others. But some ways, where I started having a breakdown, it's when. . . It's not what I believe is right," he added about his performance.

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 (December 10).

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. He added he could not understand why people were complaining now, rather than after other events.

"I've been doing sign language all these years. And it has not even been questioned. There's not even been a question. I've done my sign language beyond any reasonable doubt, because nobody has ever came to me and said 'your sign language is not right'," said Jantjie when asked if he could actually sign.

"If none of those signings I was doing was not right," asked Jantjie about his previous engagements, "how many signs that was not right ever that I've been doing in my life? And if those interpretations were not right, what have they been doing about it? And if there's. . . there was something, someone that said, you know, this interpreter doesn't interpret right, then I would be there."

The interpreter, who said he has been working for more than five years, did offer an apology over the affair.

"I say listen. I say everyone has the right of an opinion. It's their right of an opinion. Whoever say that, then I apologize if I offended," 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.

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.

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.

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.

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 km (450 miles) south ofJohannesburg.