Man who faked sign language at Mandela memorial has faced murder, other charges

December 13, 2013

The sign language interpreter who gestured meaninglessly at the Nelson Mandela memorial in South Africa on Tuesday has faced charges of murder, rape, theft, breaking and entering, malicious damage to property and kidnapping, according to eNCA.com.

The South African news site said the outcome of the murder charge against Thamsanqa Jantjie, brought in 2003, was unknown because the court case file is “mysteriously empty.”

Many of the other charges against Jantjie, dating back to 1994, were eventually dropped, eNCA reported, because he was deemed mentally unfit to stand trial. Jantjie was acquitted in the rape case.

But the independent news site said Jantjie was convicted of theft in a 1995 case and sentenced to three years in prison, although it is not clear whether he ever served any of that time.

The disclosures reinforced questions about how Jantjie managed to get hired to stand right next to many of the powerful world leaders who spoke at the memorial for the late South African president in a large stadium in Soweto. Leaders of South African groups devoted to helping the deaf pointed out that Jantjie was making arm motions that made no sense and said he was a fake.

Jantjie has said he suffers from schizophrenia and was hearing voices when he was on stage. He said that he saw angels, according to the Associated Press, and that he could be violent.

A government official said the Xhosa-speaking Jantjie also did not speak English well enough to interpret effectively and that the firm that hired him had “vanished into thin air.”

Steven Mufson covers energy and other financial news.
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