- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 12, 2013

The sign-language interpreter who stood on stage at Nelson Mandela’s memorial services, and took fire for faking his hand signals, said he suffered a schizophrenic episode.

Thamsanqa Jantjie, 34, said to media in South Africa that he had actually “started hearing voices” and was hallucinating, when he suddenly started signing random hand signals, the BBC reported.

He was captured on video that has since gone viral making the same set of hand signals over and over, regardless of what the speaker next to him was saying. Deaf groups expressed outrage at his display, calling the episode an embarrassment and pleading on social media to get him off the stage.

Mr. Jantjie, who works for SA Interpreters, said he’s a senior interpreter and has worked many large-size events in the past.

He claimed his performance — which included signing during President Obama’s remarks — was completely out of his control, due to his medical condition and the sudden onset of voices in his head.

“There was nothing I could do,” he said, in the Johannesburg Star. “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.”

At the same time, he issued a conflicting statement just hours later to another newspaper — saying he was actually pleased with his performance, the BBC reported.

Mandela’s body is currently lying in state in Pretoria, set for burial on Sunday.


• Cheryl K. Chumley can be reached at cchumley@washingtontimes.com.

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