JOHANNESBURG — The South African sign language interpreter accused of using “fake” signs at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service this week said he suffered a schizophrenic episode at the event during which he hallucinated and heard voices.
Thamsanqa Jantjie made the admissions to Johannesburg’s Star newspaper Thursday following allegations that have led to him being called an impostor by sign language experts.
“There was nothing I could do. I was alone in a very dangerous situation,” Jantjie said. “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.”
The latest revelations prompted an apology Thursday by a South African cabinet minister who said a mistake was made in hiring Jantjie. Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu apologized to South Africa’s deaf community during a press conference but denied that the country felt embarrassed by the controversy.
“I don’t think he was just picked up on the street. He went to a school for the deaf,” she said.
Still, in a separate interview with the Associated Press, Jantjie said that while he was on stage at the FNB Stadium he saw visions of angels. He also told the AP that he has previously been violent and was once hospitalized in a mental health facility for more than a year.
Jantjie stood approximately three feet from President Obama and other world leaders during Tuesday’s ceremony to honor Mandela, and the state of Jantjie’s mental health that day will raise serious security questions for South African authorities.
Jantjie told the Star newspaper that he was paid R850, or about $85, to interpret at the ceremony.
“Life is unfair. This illness is unfair. Anyone who doesn’t understand this illness will think that I’m just making this up,” he said.
He said that as a result of the episode his ability to hear and interpret was impaired, but that he felt that given the gravity of the occasion he couldn’t leave.
On the day of the memorial service Jantjie was due get a regular six-month mental health checkup to determine whether the medication he takes was working, whether it needed to be changed or whether he needed to be kept at a mental health facility for treatment, the AP reported.0