Mandela memorial: 'I wasn't faking sign language, was seeing angels'

Published: Dec 13, 2013, 08:00 IST | Agencies |

Thamsanqa Jantjie, accused of faking sign language while standing alongside world leaders at Nelson Mandela's memorial service, said he saw angels at the event, has been violent in the past and suffers from schizophrenia

He stood with a deadpan expression just inches from US President Barack Obama and other world leaders speaking at Nelson Mandela’s memorial, dressed in a dark suit, with a blue security lanyard bearing the words “state funeral” draped around his neck, flapping his arms and gesticulating in what was supposed to be sign language for the deaf.

Nelson Mandela was yesterday given back to South Africans who queued in thousands from the early hours to file past his open casket on a day of viewing reserved for the public. Aerial images showed lines of mourners snaking for around a mile as they queued patiently for buses to the building where his body is lying in state and then again as they waited to go inside. Pic/AFP

But yesterday, the bizarre story of the supposed interpreter, identified as Thamsanqa Jantjie, who is accused by sign-language experts of being a fraud, took a yet stranger turn when he said he suffered from schizophrenia, had visions of angels while he was supposed to be interpreting for dignitaries. “I was in a very difficult position,” he said. “And remember those people, the president and everyone, they were armed.

Jantjie stood just a few feet away from US President Barack Obama during the event and said he was distracted by the hallucinations. Pic/AFP

There was armed police around me. If I start panicking, I’ll start a problem. I have to deal with this in a manner so that I mustn’t embarrass my country.” The 34-year-old insisted that he was doing proper sign language during the ceremony, but lost focus when the hallucinations started. “What happened that day, I see angels come to the stadium,” Jantjie said. “I start realising that the problem is here. And the problem, I don’t know the attack of this problem, how will it come. Sometimes I get violent on that place. Sometimes I will see things chasing me.”

Jantjie, who admitted that he was once hospitalised in a mental health facility for more than a year, was still pleased with his overall performance at the ceremony honoring the anti-apartheid hero. “I think that I’ve been a champion of sign language,” he added. However, officials with the Deaf Federation of South Africa claim they had complained about Jantjie, but they were ignored by the African National Congress.

‘Mistake happened’ over signer: SA
A South African deputy cabinet minister said that “a mistake happened” in hiring the bogus interpreter. Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu said the government tried to track down the people of SA Interpreters, the company who was hired by the ANC, but they “have vanished into thin air.” Zulu apologised to deaf people offended around the world by Jantjie’s incomprehensible signing.

Outrage over Mandela ‘death’ picture

This image shows a portrait of Nelson Mandela (left) taken by AFP photographer Trevor Samson in July 02, 1991 in Durban during an ANC congress and the same one posted anonymously on social networks and purporting to be taken after his death in Johannesburg on December 5, 2013. The ‘death’ picture of Mandela, lying in state, which was posted on the Internet, prompted angry reactions from the people and the South African government who denounced the breach of custom. People reacted angrily to the picture by asking how it was possible to take a picture when there was such tight security. 

Sign up for all the latest news, top galleries and trending videos from

loading image
This website uses cookie or similar technologies, to enhance your browsing experience and provide personalised recommendations. By continuing to use our website, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Cookie Policy. OK