Thamsanqa Jantjie: ‘Fake’ sign language interpreter claims he suffered schizophrenic episode

Thamsanqa Jantjie, 34, sparked outrage after he was seen making meaningless gestures during Nelson Mandela's memorial.
Thamsanqa Jantjie, 34, sparked outrage after he was seen making meaningless gestures during Nelson Mandela’s memorial.
Credit: Reuters

The man at the center of a sign language scandal that unfolded during a memorial for Nelson Mandela is insisting he is not a fake, but suffers from debilitating schizophrenia.

Thamsanqa Jantjie, 34, was seen on stage alongside world leaders signing meaningless gibberish that was immediately detected by people in South Africa’s hearing-impaired community. After his photo and video of the event spread across the globe following accusations that he was an imposter, Jantjie is defending himself, saying his illness acted up during the event and he had no choice but to remain on stage.

In an interview with South Africa’s The Star, he said a schizophrenic episode caused him to lose focus, hear voices and experience hallucinations. The voices were so loud, he claimed, he could no longer understand what was being said, but had to stay put and try to interpret through it.

“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.”

He added, “Life is unfair. This illness is unfair. Anyone who doesn’t understand this illness will think that I’m just making this up.”

Jantjie said his illness caused him to be medically boarded a few years ago. He is an employee of SA Interpreters and has been seen interpreting alongside prominent leaders in the past, including South African President Jacob Zuma.

Follow Cassandra Garrison on Twitter: @CassieAtMetro



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