Sign Language 'Champion' Who Outraged Deaf People at Mandela Memorial Said He Was 'Hallucinating;' Saw Angels Coming Into Stadium

(Photo: Reuters/Kai Pfaffenbach)South African sign language interpreter Thamsanqa Jantjie, 34.

The South African sign language interpreter currently facing the outrage of deaf people around the world for gesticulating gibberish as world leaders paid tribute to Nelson Mandela at the former South African president's memorial said he was hallucinating and saw angels descending on the stadium.

The interpreter, 34-year-old Thamsanqa Jantjie, revealed he suffers from schizophrenia and had been confined to a mental institution for more than a year before his rise to international infamy and was experiencing a mental attack while he signed alongside the world leaders.

He defended himself in several news reports, however, as a "champion" of sign language and said he believes that signing is his calling in an Associated Press report.

"I would like to tell everybody that if I've offended anyone, please, forgive me," said Jantjie. "But what I was doing, I was doing what I believe is my calling, I was doing what I believe makes a difference."

He explained that while he was on stage at the FNB Stadium he began seeing visions of angels.

"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 on that place. Sometimes I will see things that chase me," Jantjie told AP.

"I was in a very difficult position," he continued. "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."

USA Today
Mandela Sign Language Interpreter Was Hallucinating

On Thursday, Deputy Minister of Women, Children and People with Disabilities Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu to South Africa's deaf community said it was a mistake hiring Jantjie. She, however, denied that South Africa was embarrassed by what happened.

"I don't think he was just picked up on the street. He went to a school for the deaf," she said.

According to a USA Today report, sign language experts claim Jantjie's interpretations amounted to "gibberish."

"He wasn't even doing anything, there was not one sign there. Nothing. He was literally flapping his arms around," Cara Loening, director of Sign Language Education and Development in Cape Town, told the Agence France-Presse news service.

When asked if he was happy with his performance by local radio station Talk Radio 702 on Thursday, Jantjie said, "Absolutely! What I have been doing I think I have been a champion of sign language. I have interpreted many big events. Not only the event that's in question now."

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