Mandela Sign Interpreter: I Was Hallucinating

He says he suffered schizophrenic episode onstage

By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff

Posted Dec 12, 2013 2:20 AM CST | Updated Dec 12, 2013 7:00 AM CST

(Newser) – The interpreter blasted for supposedly making up sign language during Nelson Mandela's memorial service says he wasn't faking it—he was hallucinating and hearing voices. Thamsanqa Jantjie says he suffers from schizophrenia and he had an episode during the service, possibly brought on by the magnitude of the occasion. He says he felt unable to leave and continued to sign things that made no sense.

"There was nothing I could do. I was alone in a very dangerous situation," he tells South Africa's Independent. "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." Jantjie, who takes medication for his condition, was hired for around $85 to interpret the event and the government plans to investigate the interpreting company over the "unacceptable" breakdown in communication. "Life is unfair. This illness is unfair," Jantjie says. "Anyone who doesn’t understand this illness will think that I’m just making this up."

President Obama waves standing next to the sign language interpreter after making his speech at the Mandela memorial service.
President Obama waves standing next to the sign language interpreter after making his speech at the Mandela memorial service.   (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
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The "fake" interpreter in action.   (YouTube)

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