Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

South African fake interpreter has criminal past

New revelations have emerged about the inept sign language interpreter who made a mockery of Nelson Mandela’s memorial service.

Thamsanqua Jantjie has admitted he’s a schizophrenic and suffered hallucinations during the service that was broadcast around the world. But South African news agency eNCA reports that the man who stood just feet away from the world’s most powerful leaders has a checkered past replete with charges of murder and kidnapping.

According to the eNCA report, Jantjie was accused of murder, attempted murder and kidnapping back in 2003. When their reporters looked for the case file, they found it was empty — and eNCA has been unable to confirm whether the charges were dropped because Jantjie was deemed mentally unfit to stand trial.

The report also found allegations of rape, theft, housebreaking, and malicious damage to property against Jantjie dating back to 1994. Jantjie was convicted of theft and sentenced to three years, but it is unclear if he actually served that time. Jantjie was acquitted of the rape charge. Other charges were dropped for unspecified reasons.

The allegations add another layer of embarrassment for the South African government in the wake of Tuesday’s Mandela memorial. Sign language experts around the globe were stunned to see Jantjie wildly gesticulating on stage in an incoherent manner, seemingly unable to do basic signs like “Mandela” or “thank you.”

South African officials say they are investigating how Jantjie was picked to be on stage. The interpretation company he works for — SA Interpreters — has “vanished into thin air” according to Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu, the deputy minister for women, children and people with disabilities. Bogopane-Zulu added that South African sign language has over 100 dialects which could have added to the world-wide confusion.

Jantjie himself told reporters that he is qualified in sign language but blamed his performance on his mental illness: “There was nothing I could do… 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.”

As for the criminal allegations in his past, when Jantjie was confronted by an AP reporter, he walked away without comment — ironically similar to the silent non-communication that started the international brouhaha in the first place.

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