- The Washington Times - Friday, December 13, 2013

The story of the “fake” sign-language interpreter who stood next to President Obama at Nelson Mandela’s memorial took another bizarre twist Friday when a news agency in South Africa reported the man has been charged over the past two decades with murder, rape, theft and kidnapping.

One day after Thamsanqa Jantjie, the interpreter, told reporters he was hallucinating during the ceremony, South Africa’s eNCA reported that Mr. Jantjie has been charged with a variety of crimes since 1994. Most of the charges were dropped when authorities ruled he was mentally unfit to stand trial, and it’s unclear if he ever served time in prison.

He came to the public’s attention during the memorial service when deaf people and their advocacy groups reported that Mr. Jantjie’s hand gestures made no sense. Mr. Jantjie later told journalists that he is schizophrenic and was seeing angels during the event. He said he is violent sometimes.

The eNCA new service said it compiled the report about Mr. Jantjie’s criminal record in less than 48 hours, raising more questions about background checks performed by the South African authorities.

The White House has fielded many questions about the episode this week because Mr. Jantjie stood within arm’s length of Mr. Obama for about 30 minutes while the president delivered his eulogy at the soccer stadium in Johannesburg.

Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan has said vetting for criminal history and other appropriate background checks of people who participated in the ceremony were the responsibility of the South Africans. He added that Secret Service agents are “always in close proximity to the president.”

A South African official apologized for allowing Mr. Jantjie onto the stage.

“In the process, and in the speed of the event, a mistake happened,” South African deputy Cabinet minister Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu said.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said Friday that the Secret Service “takes an extraordinary amount of necessary precautions to ensure the president’s safety.”