Mandela Memorial Signer Allegedly Burned Two Men to Death

The bogus signer's background becomes stranger and stranger

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Evan Vucci / AP

Thamsanqa Jantjie, right, interprets in sign language for President Barack Obama during his remarks at a memorial service at FNB Stadium in honor of Nelson Mandela in Soweto, near Johannesburg.

The fake sign language interpreter at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service last week was among a group of people accused of assaulting two men found with a stolen television and burning them to death, according to his friends. The interpreter, who sparked outrage when it was revealed that he was using fake sign language during the event, joined others in allegedly setting fire to tires and placing them around the two men’s necks, one of the interpreter’s cousins and three of his friends told the Associated Press.

Thamsanqa Jantijie was never tried for the 2003 killings because authorities determined he was not mentally fit to stand trial, the sources, quoted anonymously, told the AP. Their account of the murders matched a description of the crime Jantijie himself gave during an interview with the Sunday Times newspaper of Johannesburg. Jantijie was institutionalized for over than a year in lieu of standing trial.

Jantijie said last week that he has schizophrenia and experiences hallucinations. He claimed to see angels while making nonsensical gestures during last Tuesday’s ceremony. South African officials are investigating who hired Jantjie as the onstage interpreter at the Mandela memorial, and how he received security clearance. Jantjie said he was hired by an interpretation company for which he had freelanced for years. But government officials say the owner of that company has disappeared.