Interpreter Claims Schizophrenic Episode at Mandela Memorial  

Thamsanqa Jantjie says he began hearing voices during the event, making it impossible to accurately sign.

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President Barack Obama delivers a speech next to sign language interpreter Thamsanqa Jantjie.

ALEXANDER JOE/AFP/Getty Images

The man who has been at the center of the controversy over "fake sign language" during Mandela's memorial service says that he had a schizophrenic episode during the program, and that he lost concentration and started hearing voices and hallucinating, IOL News reports.

Thamsanqa Jantjie says that he struggles with mental illness and that he had taken his medication, but is unclear as to whether it was the magnitude of the event or the happiness he felt through the day that brought on the attack, IOL News reports.

"There was nothing I could do. I was alone in a very dangerous situation," Jantjie told the South African newspaper. "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."

When SA Interpreters, the company for which Jantjie works, told him on Monday that he would interpret at the memorial service, the 34-year-old said he felt honored to be part of the historic event, IOL News reports.

Jantjie said that although he was having an episode, which included seeing things that weren't there and hearing loud voices in his head, he couldn’t leave, so he stayed on and continued to try and sign.

“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.

Despite the attack, Jantjie says he tried to sign what he heard but his schizophrenic episode made that nearly impossible to do accurately. His misstep drew national headlines, as Jantjie was blasted on social networks and called a "fake" throughout national media.

"The interpreter at the service was clearly not competent and did not use hand shapes, movements or facial expressions typical of South African sign language," Andries van Niekerk, spokesman for the National Institute for the Deaf, told the South African Press Association.

Van Niekerk said the deaf community was outraged.

"The NID is saddened that the deaf in attendance [at the service] could not understand what other great statesmen said about the legacy that the father of our nation leaves behind."

Read more at IOL News.

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