13 Dec 2013

Mandela memorial interpreter had schizophrenic episode

8:08 am on 13 December 2013

The sign language interpreter accused of using fake hand signals at Nelson Mandela's memorial says he had a schizophrenic episode and was hallucinating during the service.

Interpreter Thamsanqa Dyantyi on stage with US President Barack Obama.

Interpreter Thamsanqa Dyantyi on stage with US President Barack Obama. Photo: AFP

"I see angels come into the stadium," said Thamsanqa Dyantyi, who stood alongside national and international leaders at the event on Tuesday.

The BBC reported he also said he had become violent during such episodes in the past.

The Sign Language Education and Development organisation afterwards said the interpreter was a complete fraud.

The agency that employed him, SA Interpreters, has reportedly vanished.

The African National Congress said it had used Mr Dyantyi, 34, as an interpreter several times before.

The South African Translators' Institute said earlier that there had been complaints over Mr Dyantyi's work before at previous events when he didn't make sense then either, but the ANC had taken no action.

Mr Dyantyi told the BBC that he had a breakdown during the event and started hallucinating about angels coming down into the crowd.

"I started knowing that I am not real, because it's not something possible. But believe me I saw them coming on stage.

"From that moment, it was not myself," he said, adding that he was "absolutely" aware that he was not signing correctly.

During the memorial, Mr Dyantyi stood on the stage next US President Barack Obama, South African President Jacob Zuma and Mr Mandela's grandchildren, translating their eulogies.

Pressure has been mounting on the government to explain why he was hired for such an important event.

Deputy Disability Minister Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu told a news conference on Thursday that the interpreter had been properly accredited and there was no security concern.

But she said: "In terms of security clearance that is in a process, we are requesting to check his vetting.

"But normally when you do provide a service at a particular level you will be vetted and as you could see he had his accreditation, so he didn't just walk through."