Fake signer at Mandela event accused in mob attack
FILE - In this Dec. 11, 2013 file photo, Thamsanqa Jantjie, the bogus sign language interpreter at last week's Nelson Mandela memorial service, speaks at his home in Bramfischerville, South Africa. Jantjie was among a group of people who accosted two men found with a stolen television and burned them to death by setting fire to tires placed around their necks, one of the interpreter's cousins and three of his friends told The Associated Press Monday, Dec. 16, 2013. (AP Photo/Itumeleng English, File) SOUTH AFRICA OUT
FILE - In this file photo from Dec.10, 2013, Thamsanqa Jantjie, right, interprets in sign language for President Barack Obama during his remarks at a memorial service at FNB Stadium in honor of Nelson Mandela in Soweto, near Johannesburg. The South African government says it is aware of reports that Jantjie faced a murder charge a decade ago, and says he is being investigated. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)
Just when it seemed the scandal over the bogus sign language interpreter at Nelson Mandela’s memorial had run its course, a cousin and three friends say he was part of a mob that accosted two men found with a stolen television and burned them to death by setting fire to tires placed around their necks.
Thamsanqa Jantjie never went to trial for the 2003 killings when other suspects did because authorities determined he was not mentally fit to stand trial, the four told the Associated Press yesterday. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the fake signing fiasco, which has deeply embarrassed South Africa’s government and prompted a high-level investigation into how it happened.
Their account of the killings matched a description of the crime and the outcome for Jantjie that he himself described in an interview published by the Sunday Times newspaper of Johannesburg.
“It was a community thing, what you call mob justice, and I was also there,” Jantjie told the newspaper.
Jantjie was not at his house yesterday, and the cousin told the AP Jantjie had been picked up by someone in a car Sunday and had not returned. His cell phone rang through to a message saying Jantjie was not reachable.
Instead of standing trial in 2006, Jantjie was institutionalized for a period of longer than a year, the four said, and then returned to live in his poor township neighborhood on the outskirts of Soweto. At some point after that, they said, he started getting jobs doing sign language interpretation at events for the governing African National Congress party.
Jantjie told the AP that he has schizophrenia, hallucinated and believed he saw angels while gesturing incoherently just 3 feet away from President Obama and other world leaders at the memorial last Tuesday. Signing experts said his arm and hand movements were mere gibberish.
In the interview Thursday, Jantjie said he had been violent “a lot” in the past, but declined to provide details. He blamed his behavior on his schizophrenia, saying he was institutionalized for 19 months, including a period during 2006.
The 2003 killings, carried out by a grisly method known as “necklacing,” occurred a few hundred yards from Jantjie’s tidy concrete home, according to the cousin and friends, one of whom described himself as Jantjie’s best friend.
Necklacing attacks were fairly common during the struggle against apartheid, carried out by blacks on blacks suspected of aiding the white government or belonging to opposing factions. But while people who encounter suspected thieves in South Africa have been known to beat or kill them to mete out punishment, necklacing has been rare in such cases.
An investigation is under way to determine who hired Jantjie for the Mandela memorial service and whether he received security clearance. Government officials have not said how long the investigation will take.
Four government departments involved in organizing the memorial service have distanced themselves from Jantjie, telling the AP they had no contact with him.