A South African man accused of faking as a sign language interpreter at the Nelson Mandela memorial claimed yesterday that he was a violent schizophrenic who "heard voices" and saw "angels" during the event.
Thamsanqa Jantjie (34) made headlines around the world after appearing next to international leaders, including President Barack Obama and Ban ki-Moon, the UN secretary-general, apparently doing little more than "flapping his arms around".
The claims by the sign language experts in South Africa and abroad provoked a government investigation and a manhunt for the hapless interpreter.
Yesterday, Mr Jantjie surfaced and, in a series of defiant interviews, insisted that he was a "champion of sign language" but lost his ability to interpret because of a schizophrenic attack under the pressure of the event. It left him hallucinating that angels were entering the stadium.
It also emerged that the father of four was the subject of a department of justice investigation for fraudulently claiming R1.5m (€104,000) for interpretation services not rendered and that those who ran the company that put him forward for the job have "vanished into thin air".
In a disclosure that will alarm the security advisers of the 91 heads of state and government who attended the Soweto service, Mr Jantjie also admitted that he had become violent during schizophrenic episodes in the past and once spent a year in a secure psychiatric facility.
"What happened that day, I see angels come to the stadium," he told the Associated Press. "I start realising that the problem is here. Sometimes I react violent on that place. Sometimes I will see things that chase me."
Mr Jantjie said that during his episode, he heard loud voices in his head that impaired his ability to hear the speeches.
"I was in a very difficult position," he said. "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."
Mr Jantjie has called his accusers "cowards" and pointed out that he has worked for the ruling African National Congress and government many times. Deaf groups say they have complained about him before, but the ANC and government said they had no record of the complaints.
Meanwhile, the South African government denied Mr Jantjie was a fake, saying it was convinced that someone was able to understand his particular brand of sign language.
Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu, deputy minister for women, children and persons with disabilities, said Xhosa was Mr Jantjie's first language and, because he had only "introductory" training in sign language, he had become "overwhelmed" by the responsibility.
"I am not defending him but we don't want him to be attacked as an individual because he does communicate with deaf people. Maybe they just don't speak the civilised sign language that everyone understands." (© Daily Telegraph, London)