Mandela Deaf Interpreter: ‘I’m a Sign Language Champ!’

Blames gibberish gestures on schizophrenia

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Brendan Smialowski / AFP / Getty Images

Sign language interpreter Thamsanqa Jantjie during the memorial service at FNB Stadium December 10, 2013 in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Updated: Dec. 12, 7:30 a.m.

The sign language interpreter who outraged deaf people around the world with his nonsensical miming during the Nelson Mandela memorial service has blamed his actions on a bout of schizophrenia, a condition for which he claims to be taking medication.

“There was nothing I could do,” Thamsanqa Jantjie told a local newspaper, according to Reuters. “I was alone in a very dangerous situation. I tried to control myself and not show the world what was going on.” In an interview with the AP, Jantjie said while he was on stage at FNB Stadium he saw visions of angels.

On Thursday, however, Jantjie also told the radio station Talk Radio 702 that he was happy with his performance. “Absolutely, absolutely. I think that I’ve been a champion of sign language.”

South African deputy Cabinet minister Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu said  “a mistake happened” in the hiring of Jantjie. Government officials are investigating how he was hired and given a security clearance, but the owners of the company that provided Jantjie “have vanished into thin air.”

This post has been updated to include a comment from the South African government.


(MORE: ‘Fake’ Sign Language Interpreter: What Happened?)