Saturday 19 April 2014

Mandela memorial interpreter 'faced murder charge'

Man accused of faking sign language was reportedly charged with murder in 2003

Thamsanqa Jantjie, whose signing interpretations were described as gibberish.
Thamsanqa Jantjie, whose signing interpretations at the Nelson Mandela memorial were described as gibberish.

The man accused of faking sign language interpretation at Nelson Mandela's memorial has previously faced a charge of murder, according to reports.

Thamsanqa Jantjie, 34, was exposed as a fraud by experts after he signed "nonsense" during the four-hour ceremony as he stood next to a number of heads of state including US President Barack Obama.

Mr Jantjie, who has been treated for schizophrenia, was reportedly charged with murder in 2003, as well as rape in 1994, theft in 1995, breaking into a house in 1997, malicious damage to property in 1998, and attempted murder and kidnapping in 2003., according to Investigations by South African news broadcaster eNCA.

They report that Jantjie was acquitted on the rape charge, but he was convicted of theft for which he was sentenced to three years in prison. It is unclear whether he has ever served a jail sentence.

It is thought many of the charges against him, the earliest of which dates back to 1994, were dropped as he was deemed unfit to stand trial.

Mr Jantjie was acquitted on the rape charge, but he was convicted of theft for which he was sentenced to three years in prison. It’s unclear if he ever spent time in jail.

Court records reveal that the 2003 murder, attempted murder and kidnapping case against Mr Jantjie and other people, was referred to the South Gauteng High Court in 2004. It was finalised in November 2006, but the court file for the case is empty.

The South African government says it is aware of reports that he once faced a murder charge.

The revelation has raised serious questions about the security at the landmark event, which was attended by 91 heads of state and government including Mr Obama and David Cameron.

The South African government offered a formal apology on Thursday, saying it made a "mistake" in choosing a sign language interpreter for Mandela's memorial who was later exposed as a fake by experts.

Contacted by The Daily Telegraph, Mr Jantjie declined to answer questions about his alleged criminal record and hung up.

"I am an icon! I am an icon!" he said. "Why are you persecuting me? Leave me alone!"

Nathi Mncube, a spokesman for the National Prosecuting Authority, said they were investigating Mr Jantjie’s past.

“We are looking for the details – it’s not something that you can just get like that,” he said.

“We deal with over a million cases every year – we can’t just find something within two or three hours. We can’t check on just information that has been given to us, other than the name, we need other details.

“It’s the police who deal with the criminal records checks. You should ask them.”

Gen Solomon Makgale, a spokesman for the South African Police Service, refused to confirm details of the criminal charges Mr Jantjie was allegedly facing.

“As the minister announced yesterday, we have noted all the concerns and issues that have been raised,” he said. “We are busy with preparations with Sunday’s funeral and we will look at it next week.”

Asked how VIPs such as the Prince of Wales could be confident about their safety given that apparent, serious security breach, he said they should not worry – and police could always step in if they were attacked.

“There will be many dignitaries at the funeral and we have everything in place, security is very tight already and will continue to be so up until the funeral,” he said.

“If anything were to happen, we will be in a position to react so quickly.”

Asked if all those with access to the funeral would have security clearance and their criminal records checked, he said: “Part of making sure that you prepare from a security point of view is of course to do the necessary clearances, for security as a whole.

“There is a command centre has been set up that coordinates the logistics and the security arrangements for major events. That team has got a number of people, from the police, from various government departments, the National Defence Force, provincial government departments, we are all there coordinating that to make sure that there are no issues.”

Brian Dube, spokesman for South African State Security, said an investigation was ongoing so he couldn't comment.

Asked about Mr Jantjie’s extensive criminal record, he said: “I don’t have details of that. Government has indicated that issues relating to that is a matter that’s going to be investigated.”

He confirmed that State Security did look at criminal records as part of background checks they conducted on those involved in the memorial service.

“In security screening we do look at a number of issues – I can’t go into those details now. That’s a matter that’s going to be dealt with, it’s matter when that investigation is completed.”

He said the government investigation would be conducted by different security services organisations. “I don’t know who’s leading it,” he said.

Aislinn Laing, in Johannesburg

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