Thamsanqa Jantjie, a father of four, is accused of being a fake sign language interpreter after, experts say, his gestures during the Nelson Mandela memorial service were meaningless.
The “fake” sign language interpreter at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service who blamed a poor performance on visions of angels said he trained for two years at a U.K. university.
But that may have been a hallucination, too, according to a report.
Thamsanqa Jantjie, 34 — who said a schizophrenic fit caused his failed sign language interpretation of the service at FNB Stadium — told The Star that he studied full time at the “University of Tecturers,” but no such school exists.
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Jantjie stood just 3 feet away from President Obama, one of several heads of state who attended the memorial, as he addressed the crowd at the soccer stadium on Tuesday.
The father of four said he had documentation to prove he was qualified for the job, but he couldn’t immediately produce anything when the South African newspaper asked to see the paperwork.
Some experts agreed that Jantjie did use some signs properly — including repeated gestures for “donkey,” “lightning bolt” and “prawns” — but one group said he was clearly just an amature.
“Is he a fake? No,” read a statement from the Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities. “But he is not a professional.”
Jantjie said he was scheduled to check into a mental health facility the same day as the ceremony, but backed out at the last minute so he could take part in the historic event.
Jantjie maintains that visions of angels distracted him from providing sign language during the ceremony, which included speeches from several world leaders, such as President Obama.
“I was in a very difficult position,” he told the Associated Press. “And remember those people, the president and everyone, they were armed. 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.”
Jantjie said he studied sign language for two years at a U.K. university, which didn’t appear to exist.
The accused fraud, who has acknowledged spending more than a year at a mental health facility, also revealed to The Star that he was scheduled to check into Sterkfontein Psychiatric Hospital the same day as the Johannesburg event but backed out at the last minute.
South African government officials have launched an investigation into how Jantjie was hired.
Officials have said that the owners of SA Interpreters, the company hired by the ANC, could not be tracked down.
“In the process, and in the speed of the event, a mistake happened,” deputy Cabinet minister Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu said.