Ridiculed Sign Language Interpreter Says He Was Hallucinating During Nelson Mandela Memorial [VIDEO]

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By Anne Lu | December 13, 2013 2:39 AM EST

The sign language interpreter at Nelson Mandela’s memorial claimed that he saw angels streaking into the Johannesburg’s FNB stadium, which might explain why his interpretations were called “gibberish” by sign language experts.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Thamsanqa Jantjie explained that he was suffering from a schizophrenic episode when the memorial was taking place on Tuesday.

His hallucinations apparently began while he was interpreting; he just tried not to panic because there were “armed policemen around me.”

“What happened that day, I see angels come to the stadium,” he told the AP. “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 react violent on that place. Sometimes I will se things that chase me.

“I was in a very difficult position,” he said, adding that if he started panicking, he would start being a problem. “I have to deal with this in a manner so that I mustn’t embarrass my country.”

Mr Jantjie said that he was due for a regular six-month mental health check-up on the day of the ceremony, but he did not tell the company that paid him $85 for his work about the check-up. The owners of SA Interpreters in Johannesburg were aware of his condition, though.

Nevertheless, he insisted that he was doing proper sign language interpretation, saying that he was happy with his performance.

“I think I’ve been a champion of sign language,” Mr Jantjie told Talk Radio 702.

Not so, according to the deaf community around the world.

Wilma Newhoudt-Druchen, the first deaf woman elected to the South African Parliament, tweeted that Mr Jantjie was just “signing rubbish. He cannot sign. Please get him off.”

The Deaf Federation of South Africa added that he was just “moving his hands around but there was no meaning in what he used his hands for.”

Action on Hearing Loss organisation chief executive Paul Breckell agreed, saying in a statement, “As the largest charity in the UK working with deaf people, we are shocked by the quality of sign language interpretation at Nelson Mandela’s Memorial – if it could be called interpretation at all.”

The Mandela memorial was attended by international leaders. Many of the world leaders, including South African President Jacob Zuma and U.S. President Barack Obama, stood just a few yards away from the now controversial interpreter.

Mr Jantjie has offered his apology, though, telling CNN, “For the deaf association, if they think that I’ve done a wrong interpretation, I ask forgiveness.”

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