A deaf interpreter who made up signs during Nelson Mandela’s Johannesburg memorial says he knows sign language, but he was just hallucinating and hearing voices during the memorial.
Interpreter Thamsanqa Jantjie says he suffers from schizophrenia and was having a psychotic episode during the event, according to South Africa's Independent. He said he felt as though he couldn’t leave. All he could do was continue to make signs that made no sense.
He says he takes medication for his illness. According to an interview Jantjie gave to the Associate Press, he has been violent in the past.
On stage, he says he was trying not to panic with “armed policemen around me.”
“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 come. Sometimes I get violent on that place. Sometimes I will see things chasing me,” Jantjie 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.”
When asked how often he has been violent, Jantjie said “a lot.”
Jantjie claims he was paid $85 to work the event, which included President Barack Obama and nearly 100 other heads of state.
"There was nothing I could do. I was alone in a very dangerous situation,"he said. "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."
Deputy Minister of Women, Children and People with Disabilities Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu apologized to deaf people who were baffled and outraged by Jantjie’s performance.
Calling the incident “unacceptable,” Bogopane-Zulu said Thursday that government officials are attempting to track down the company that provided Jantjie for the event. The co-owners of that business seem to “have vanished into thin air.”
Breakthrough symptoms while on medication can be common for many schizophrenia patients. Sever short term psychosis is associated with severe stress, possibly brought on by the large scale of the event.
"Life is unfair. This illness is unfair," Jantjie said. "Anyone who doesn’t understand this illness will think that I’m just making this up."