Fake Mandela interpreter's murder charge investigated
Published 14/12/2013 | 02:30
The South African government has said it is investigating reports that the man acting as a sign language interpreter at Nelson Mandela's memorial had previously faced a charge of murder.
Thamsanqa Jantjie (34) said he was suffering from an episode of schizophrenia when he began hallucinating and signing "nonsense" during the four-hour ceremony.
His performance, which was condemned by the deaf community, attracted global attention.
However, allegations that emerged last night will raise serious questions about the security at the landmark event, and how he could have gotten so close to a number of world leaders, which included US President Barack Obama.
South African broadcaster eNCA claimed that he had previously faced charges ranging from theft to rape and murder.
Two charges of theft, one of which he was convicted for in 1995 and one for which he appears to have an outstanding arrest warrant, have been independently verified. He was reportedly given a three-year sentence for the theft but it is unclear whether he served any time in prison.
The broadcaster reported that Mr Jantjie was acquitted on the rape charge. It is believed that several of the charges against him, the earliest of which dates back to 1994, were dropped as he was deemed unfit to stand trial.
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, US assistant secretary of state for African affairs, said "we're all very upset" about the bogus interpreter who appeared just three feet from Mr Obama at the memorial ceremony for Mr Mandela.
Mrs Thomas-Greenfield told reporters in Kenya yesterday that US officials were concerned about security and how the interpreter could have been given clearance for such a high-security event.
Gen Solomon Makgale, a spokesman for the South African Police Service, refused to confirm details of the criminal charges.
"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 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.
"A command centre has been set up that co-ordinates 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 co-ordinating that to make sure that there are no issues."
In a phonecall, Mr Jantjie refused to answer questions about his alleged criminal record.
"I am an icon! I am an icon!" he said. "Why are you persecuting me? Leave me alone!," he added before hanging up.
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 get just like that," he said.
Brian Dube, spokesman for South African State Security, said an investigation was ongoing so he could not comment.
Asked about Mr Jantjie's alleged 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." (© Daily Telegraph, London)