The Slatest

The “Fake” Sign Interpreter Reportedly Was Once Accused of Murder

In this picture taken on December 10, 2013 US President Barack Obama delivers a speech next to sign language interpreter Thamsanqa Jantjie (R) during the memorial service for late South African President Nelson Mandela at Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg

Photo by Pedro Ugarte/AFP/Getty Images

Yep, more bizarre by the day. The latest revelation in the ongoing saga of the sign language interpreter who by all accounts doesn’t know sign language continued Friday with reports that he had previously been charged with a number of crimes, including murder, kidnapping, and rape. Here’s 24-hour South African television news broadcaster eNCA with the details:

eNCA can reveal the sign language interpreter at Nelson Mandela’s memorial on Tuesday faced a murder charge in 2003. It’s unknown if the case was ever concluded as the court file is mysteriously empty. … eNCA’s investigations have found that Thamsanqa Jantjie, who is being treated for schizophrenia, has also faced rape (1994), theft (1995), housebreaking (1997), malicious damage to property (1998), murder, attempted murder and kidnapping (2003) charges.  


Many of the charges brought against him were dropped, allegedly because he was mentally unfit to stand trial. 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.

The network acknowledges that the details of each case—and its outcome—remain unclear. The country’s National Prosecuting Authority was unable to confirm or deny the existence of any charges against Jantjie, leaving little for the network to go on except old court files, at least one of which (again, the 2003 murder case) is actually empty. Still, the fact that eNCA would be able to uncover such serious questions about Jantjie’s past only raises more questions about the vetting process that allowed him to stand on stage only feet from President Obama and other world leaders on Tuesday.

The report comes one day after Jantjie admitted that he suffers from violent bouts of schizophrenia and said he feared he was on the verge of one while standing on stage. According to the Associated Press, the South African government says it is aware of the latest reports, and says it continues to investigate how he was tapped for the job of interpreter.

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