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'Fake' interpreter from Mandela event is admitted to psychiatric hospital: report

Thamsanqa Jantjie stands during US President Barack Obama's speech at the Nelson Mandela Memorial at FBN Stadium, Johannesburg, South Africa, December 10.
Thamsanqa Jantjie stands during US President Barack Obama's speech at the Nelson Mandela Memorial at FBN Stadium, Johannesburg, South Africa, December 10.EPA

The "fake" sign language interpreter who stood feet away from world leaders including President Barack Obama at Nelson Mandela's memorial has been committed to a psychiatric hospital, South African media reported Thursday.

Thamsanqa Jantjie caused uproar at the ceremony in Johannesburg on Dec. 10 when he used sign-language interpretations that deaf groups say were little more than nonsensical gesticulations.

The 34-year-old later claimed he may have suffered a schizophrenic attack in which he saw "angels" flying into the stadium.

There were even media reports last week that he had once been charged with involvement in a vigilante mob that had burned a man to death in 2003, but had never faced trial.

He was admitted to Sterkfontein Hospital, in Krugersdorp, on Tuesday, his wife Siziwe told Johannesburg-based newspaper The Star. She said he had visited the hospital for a check-up but when he got there it was suggested he be admitted immediately.

"The past few days have been hard. We have been supportive because he might have had a breakdown," Siziwe told the newspaper.

She added that her husband was supposed to go for a check-up the day of the ceremony, but when he got the interpreting job the day before the event she rang and postponed the appointment.

The debacle of the "fake" interpreter raised questions about the vetting process on carried out on those working closely alongside world leaders.

Neither the South African government, which organized the event, nor the African National Congress (ANC), South Africa's ruling party which has used Jantjie's services in the past, said they knew about the questions surrounding his medical history or qualifications.

The U.S. Secret Service said the job of hiring and vetting people used in such ceremonies abroad was the responsibility of the host government, but declined to comment further.

David Buxton, chief executive of the British Deaf Association, described Jantjie as "a total fake" after his performance at the memorial, adding: "He has no real clue about sign language and has obviously upset the deaf community of South Africa as we have received hundreds of angry messages via Facebook and Twitter."

Although Jantjie claimed he had suffered a schizophrenic attack at the Mandela memorial, the ANC has used him in past events where his interpretations were just as meaningless, according to the Deaf Federation of South Africa.

The organization sent the ANC a formal letter of complaint in Jan. 2012 which said Jantjie's sign language for a speech by South African President Jacob Zuma at the party's centenary celebrations was "self-invented" and "a mockery."

"100 percent of the information was omitted," said the complaint, seen by NBC News.

ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu said last week he has no knowledge of the complaint ever being made. An invoice seen by NBC News suggested that the ANC employed Jantjie on at least one more occasion, in June this year.

Jantjie said he was paid a $85 daily fee for appearing at the Mandela memorial. South African government minister Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu said in a press conference last week that most qualified sign language interpreters charge $125 to $165 per hour and speculated that a junior official might have opted for the cheapest quote.

Both the ANC and the South African government said they are looking into their hiring process following the furor.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.