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south africa

Mandela's sign interpreter blames fit for odd gestures

© afp

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-12-12

The sign language interpreter who has been accused of gesturing nonsensically at anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela's funeral said a schizophrenic episode was to blame for his erratic hand movements at Tuesday's service.

The sign language interpreter who has been accused of gesturing nonsensically at Nelson Mandela's funeral said a schizophrenic episode was to blame for his erratic hand movements at Tuesday's service.

Thamsanqa Jantjie was accused of being a fake after members of South Africa's deaf community said his signing at the memorial ceremony had amounted to nothing more than "flapping his arms around".

But in an interview Thursday with Johannesburg's "The Star", Jantjie said his behaviour was due to a sudden attack of schizophrenia, for which he takes medication.

He told the newspaper that he lost his concentration, started hearing voices and hallucinating.

"There was nothing I could do. I was alone in a very dangerous situation," he 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 said.

Jantjie's efforts at the memorial service, during which he translated eulogies by US President Barack Obama among others, triggered outrage in the deaf community and prompted a government investigation.

Cara Loening, director of Sign Language Education and Development in Cape Town, labelled him a "complete fraud" whose signing looked like someone "trying to swat a few flies away".

Asked why he didn't just leave the stage, Jantjie said that, given the historic importance of the event, he felt compelled to stay even though he could not hear or concentrate properly.

Nearly 100 current and former heads of state or government attended Mandela's memorial.

Representatives of the South African Translators' Institute said the group already had reservations about Jantjie, who had previously signed at events for the ruling African National Congress party, including its centenary anniversary last year.

The institute's chairman, Johan Blaauw, said there had been complaints about his work on some of those occasions as well.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

Date created : 2013-12-12

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