A South African sign language interpreter accused of gesticulating nonsense during the Nelson Mandela memorial service has stated he is qualified but was hallucinating and hearing voices and said he is receiving treatment for schizophrenia.
Millions of TV viewers saw Thamsanqa Jantjie interpreting speeches by Barack Obama and other global leaders at the FNB stadium in Johannesburg. His gestures baffled and angered deaf people around the world, with experts saying he did not know even basic signs such as "thank you" or "Mandela".
"There was nothing I could do," Jantjie, 34, told South Africa's Star newspaper on Thursday. "I was alone in a very dangerous situation. 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 said the episode meant he was seeing things and hearing loud voices in his head, impairing his ability to hear and interpret the speeches. But he could not leave so he persevered. "Life is unfair. This illness is unfair. Anyone who doesn't understand this illness will think that I'm just making this up."
He did not know what triggered the attack, he added, saying he took medication for his schizophrenia.
But in a radio interview, Jantjie said that he was happy with his performance at the memorial to the anti-apartheid struggle leader, who died a week ago aged 95. "Absolutely," he told Talk 702 radio. "What I've been doing, I think I've been a champion of sign language. I've interpreted in many big events. I've interpreted in MaSisulu's [Albertina Sisulu's] funeral. I interpreted at the Brics conference."
But he confirmed: "Yes, I'm currently a patient receiving treatment for schizophrenia."
On Wednesday South Africa's leading deaf association denounced him as a fake, saying he was inventing signs, and described the episode as an insult to deaf people and Mandela himself.
Asked how he felt about being the centre of such scrutiny, Jantjies said: "It is very sad at this present moment because I believe that it was an issue that had to be dealt with earlier. If the Deaf Federation of South Africa have an issue with my interpreting it was supposed to be in clarity a long time ago, not during this crucial time for our country."
He added: "If I interpreted wrong, why is it an issue now? Why wasn't it an issue when I was doing interpretation at MaSisulu's funeral and many big events in South Africa?"
Jantjie claimed he worked for a company called "SA Interpreters" which had been hired by the African National Congress for Tuesday's ceremony. Asked if he has a formal qualification, he replied: "Yes, absolutely."
The government, which was in charge of the memorial service, has said it had no idea who he was and promised an investigation. The ANC also pleaded ignorance, even though footage from two major ANC events last year showed him signing on stage next to president Jacob Zuma. There have been complaints about him from deaf people before.
Callers to Talk 702 described it as a national embarrassment before the watching world. He accused Jantjie of lying, called for his arrest and suggested that, if he had worked as a court interpreter, he might have been responsible for miscarriages of justice.