Theater of the absurd: Deaf translator at Mandela funeral a fraud

Rick Moran
This is easily one of the most bizarre stories of the year. In fact, I've never heard anything like it.

The man who translated the words of speakers at the Mandela memorial service into sign language is apparently a fraud. Immediately after the service was over, a huge controversey erupted when South Africa's deaf community angrily informed the press that the "translator" was signing gibberish:

A mystery South African man who acted as a sign-language interpreter at Nelson Mandela's memorial service was a "fraud" who simply made "childish hand gestures" for hours as he stood on stage.

David Buxton, the CEO of the British Deaf Association, called on the South African authorities to "name and shame" the man who, he said, had acted in a way that was "disrespectful and hurtful" to deaf people around the world.

David Buxton, the CEO of the British Deaf Association, called on the South African authorities to "name and shame" the man who, he said, had acted in a way that was "disrespectful and hurtful" to deaf people around the world.

As a result, they say, he had the effect of marginalising the deaf community, which was "contrary to everything Mandela fought for".

The interpreter, who wore the clearance pass of a government official, stood just feet from Mr Obama as he made his widely-praised speech, and also interpreted for South Africa's President Jacob Zuma, who apparently faces such a high threat level that he recently spent £12.4m on security upgrades to his private home.

Deaf groups say the man, who has not yet been identified, made no sense in any language to those relying on him around the world, and did not seem to know the recognised signs for South Africa, Mr Mandela's clan name Madiba, President Jacob Zuma or former President Thabo Mbeki.

The latest embarrassment was compounded by the news that Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu's house in Cape Town was burgled as he spoke at the event.

AP tracked the man down and discovered it's even worse than anyone imagined; the guy is mentally ill and prone to violent outbursts.

The man accused of faking sign interpretation while standing alongside world leaders like U.S. President Barack Obama at Nelson Mandela's memorial service said Thursday he saw "angels" at the event, has been violent in the past and suffers from schizophrenia.

Thamsanqa Jantjie said in a 45-minute interview with The Associated Press that his hallucinations began while he was interpreting and that he tried not to panic because there were "armed policemen around me." He added that he was once hospitalized in a mental health facility for more than one year.

Jantjie, who stood gesticulating three-feet (1 meter) from Obama and others who spoke at Tuesday's ceremony that was broadcast around the world, insisted that he was doing proper sign-language interpretation of the speeches of world leaders.

But he also apologized for his performance that has been dismissed by many sign-language experts as gibberish.

The statements by Jantjie raise serious security issues for Obama, other heads of state and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon who made speeches at FNB Stadium in Soweto, Johannesburg's black township. The ceremony honored Mandela, the anti-apartheid icon and former president who died on Dec. 5.

"What happened that day, I see angels come to the stadium ... I start realizing 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 said.

"I was in a very difficult position," he added. "And remember those people, the president and everyone, they were armed, there was armed police around me. If I start panicking I'll start being a problem. I have to deal with this in a manner so that I mustn't embarrass my country."

Asked how often he had become violent, he said "a lot" while declining to provide details.

What a nightmare. We might ask why the Secret Service wasn't aware of this fellow's condition. They should have dossiers on anyone who gets that close to the president. And what about the South African government? What a monumental embarrassment.

Nobody has yet to figure out how this guy ended up where he did. Perhaps it says more about the competence of South African officials than anything else.


This is easily one of the most bizarre stories of the year. In fact, I've never heard anything like it.

The man who translated the words of speakers at the Mandela memorial service into sign language is apparently a fraud. Immediately after the service was over, a huge controversey erupted when South Africa's deaf community angrily informed the press that the "translator" was signing gibberish:

A mystery South African man who acted as a sign-language interpreter at Nelson Mandela's memorial service was a "fraud" who simply made "childish hand gestures" for hours as he stood on stage.

David Buxton, the CEO of the British Deaf Association, called on the South African authorities to "name and shame" the man who, he said, had acted in a way that was "disrespectful and hurtful" to deaf people around the world.

David Buxton, the CEO of the British Deaf Association, called on the South African authorities to "name and shame" the man who, he said, had acted in a way that was "disrespectful and hurtful" to deaf people around the world.

As a result, they say, he had the effect of marginalising the deaf community, which was "contrary to everything Mandela fought for".

The interpreter, who wore the clearance pass of a government official, stood just feet from Mr Obama as he made his widely-praised speech, and also interpreted for South Africa's President Jacob Zuma, who apparently faces such a high threat level that he recently spent £12.4m on security upgrades to his private home.

Deaf groups say the man, who has not yet been identified, made no sense in any language to those relying on him around the world, and did not seem to know the recognised signs for South Africa, Mr Mandela's clan name Madiba, President Jacob Zuma or former President Thabo Mbeki.

The latest embarrassment was compounded by the news that Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu's house in Cape Town was burgled as he spoke at the event.

AP tracked the man down and discovered it's even worse than anyone imagined; the guy is mentally ill and prone to violent outbursts.

The man accused of faking sign interpretation while standing alongside world leaders like U.S. President Barack Obama at Nelson Mandela's memorial service said Thursday he saw "angels" at the event, has been violent in the past and suffers from schizophrenia.

Thamsanqa Jantjie said in a 45-minute interview with The Associated Press that his hallucinations began while he was interpreting and that he tried not to panic because there were "armed policemen around me." He added that he was once hospitalized in a mental health facility for more than one year.

Jantjie, who stood gesticulating three-feet (1 meter) from Obama and others who spoke at Tuesday's ceremony that was broadcast around the world, insisted that he was doing proper sign-language interpretation of the speeches of world leaders.

But he also apologized for his performance that has been dismissed by many sign-language experts as gibberish.

The statements by Jantjie raise serious security issues for Obama, other heads of state and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon who made speeches at FNB Stadium in Soweto, Johannesburg's black township. The ceremony honored Mandela, the anti-apartheid icon and former president who died on Dec. 5.

"What happened that day, I see angels come to the stadium ... I start realizing 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 said.

"I was in a very difficult position," he added. "And remember those people, the president and everyone, they were armed, there was armed police around me. If I start panicking I'll start being a problem. I have to deal with this in a manner so that I mustn't embarrass my country."

Asked how often he had become violent, he said "a lot" while declining to provide details.

What a nightmare. We might ask why the Secret Service wasn't aware of this fellow's condition. They should have dossiers on anyone who gets that close to the president. And what about the South African government? What a monumental embarrassment.

Nobody has yet to figure out how this guy ended up where he did. Perhaps it says more about the competence of South African officials than anything else.