Mandela memorial interpreter saw ‘angels’, asks for forgiveness

Thamsanqa Jantjie Photo: CBC news

The ridiculed sign interpreter however defended his work.

The sign language interpreter widely ridiculed for his performance at the Nelson Mandela memorial has asked for forgiveness from the deaf associations across the world for his behaviour.

“For the deaf association, if they think that I’ve done a wrong interpretation, I ask for forgiveness,” Thamsanqa Jantjie said on Thursday.

But he said he has long been “a champion of what I’ve been doing.” He also said he is schizophrenic.

In an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday, Mr. Jantjie said he saw “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,” he said.

“I was in a very difficult position,” Mr. Jantjie went on. “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.”

The sign language interpreter also said he stood by his work.

Mr. Jantjie told journalists in Johannesburg that he was a fully qualified interpreter and had been trusted in the past with other big events as an interpreter.

“I’ve interpreted in many press conferences, including the presidential conference,” he said. “There was no one at all that said I interpreted wrong.’’

Reports however suggest that there were complaints last year after Mr. Jantjie interpreted the proceedings at the ruling African National Congress elective conference, the institute’s Chairman, Johan Blaauw told the South African Press Association.

“If I was not interpreting right, why was it was not picked up at that time?”

“You must remember you are talking about an interpreter who has been interpreting through these years,’’ Mr. Jantjie said.
And if I was interpreting wrong through these years, why should it become an issue now? It’s one of the questions I’ve never ever gotten an answer for.”

Mr. Jantjie was asked to comment on media reports that he was hearing voices in his head and hallucinating during the Mandela event Tuesday, he said “I am a “patient receiving a treatment in schizophrenia.”

At a news conference Wednesday, Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu, South Africa’s Deputy Minister of women, children and people with disabilities, admitted that mistakes had happened during the memorial, but added that Mr. Jantjie was not a “fake”.

She said there was no sign language standard in South Africa and deaf people spoke different dialects.

Ms. Bogopane-Zulu also said the government tracked down the company Mr. Jantjie worked for, but the owners “seemed to have vanished”.

“They have obviously been providing substandard service for years,” she said.

Mr. Jantjie told journalists that he was hired by a company called SA Interpreters, which was hired by the ANC.

He also said he was formally qualified as an interpreter and that his qualifications were filed with the company.

“I think that I’ve been a champion of sign language,” he said.

As outrage over his interpretation skills have grown, so have questions about who hired him.

A spokesman for the ANC said that the party had not hired him for the Mandela event.

“We have used him on some occasions. But yesterday was not an ANC event. So we cannot answer for yesterday,” Spokesman Jackson Mthembu said.

Mr. Collins Chabane, the Minister for Performance Monitoring and Evaluation in the presidency, said that the South African Government was investigating the allegations.

Also speaking, Bruno Druchen, the National Director of the Deaf Federation of South Africa sees it differently. He called Mr. Jantjie a “fake interpreter”.

“The deaf community is in outrage.”

“He is not known by the Deaf Community in South Africa nor by the South African Sign Language interpreters working in the field.”

The man showed no facial expressions, which are key in South African sign language, and his hand signals were meaningless, Druchen said.

“It is a total mockery of the language,” he added.

The service to commemorate Mandela, who died last week at 95, was broadcast to millions of viewers.

While dignitaries addressed the crowd at Johannesburg’s FNB stadium, Mr. Jantjie produced a series of hand signals that experts said meant nothing.

“It was almost like he was doing baseball signs,” a deaf actress, Marlee Matlin, told CNN on Wednesday, through a sign language interpreter. “I was appalled.”

Though each country has its own sign language, all of them entail facial expressions, she said.

She called his lack of facial expression “a giveaway.”

“I knew exactly right then and there that he wasn’t authentic at all, and it was offensive; it was offensive to me.”


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