S. Africa Fails to Explain Hiring of Hallucinating Signer

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Ordinarily, sign language interpreters in South Africa are switched every 20 minutes to maintain their concentration levels, she said. Jantjie was onstage for the entire service, which lasted more than four hours.

Jantjie, meanwhile, insisted he did proper sign language interpretation of the world leaders’ speeches. But he also apologized for a performance dismissed by many experts as gibberish.

“I would like to tell everybody that if I’ve offended anyone, please, forgive me,” Jantjie told the AP at his tidy home on the outskirts of Soweto that was outfitted with a big-screen TV in the living room and two late-model cars in the carport.

“What happened that day, I see 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 comes. Sometimes I react violent. … Sometimes I will see things that chase me,” he said.

“I was in a very difficult position,” he added. “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.”

Asked if he had ever been violent, he responded: “Yes, a lot.”

He declined to provide details, but responded to another question about his past violence by suggesting his illness was behind it. “I’m suffering from a very difficult illness. The illness that you are not in position of understanding yourself at times.”

Jantjie said that on the day of the memorial service he was due for a regular six-month mental health checkup to determine whether the medication he takes was working or needs to be changed, or whether he should enter a mental health facility for treatment.

He did not tell SA Interpreters that he was due for the checkup, but said an owner of the company was aware of his condition.

Police went to his home later Thursday to check on his well-being and determined that he was not a danger to himself or others, police spokesman Brigadier Neville Malila said.

A medical expert with University College London said Jantjie’s unusual sign language didn’t look like it was caused by schizophrenia or another psychosis.

“The disruption of sign language in people with schizophrenia takes many forms, but this does not look like anything I have seen in signers with psychosis,” said Jo Atkinson, a clinical psychologist and researcher at the Center for Deafness, Cognition and Language.

Jantjie said he is officially classified as disabled by the government because of his schizophrenia. He said he has been on medication for nine years, and had taken it the day of the memorial service.

Jantjie said he received one year of sign language interpretation training, though advocates for the deaf say qualified interpreters in South Africa must undergo five years of training.

(Photo: AP)

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