'Fake interpreter' has criminal charge history

Last updated 06:08 14/12/2013

Sign language interpreter Thamsanqa Jantjie, denounced for making up gestures during Nelson Mandela's memorial, says he shouldn't be called a fake.

Nelson Mandela memorial
BAD SIGN: A man passing himself off as a sign language interpreter punches the air during a speech being given by India's President Pranab Mukherjee at a memorial service for late South African President Nelson Mandela.

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The 'fake interpreter' for the deaf who caused a global scandal at Nelson Mandela's memorial service has a history of lying and fraud, and has previously faced rape and murder charges according to local media reports.

The Daily Dispatch reported that Thamsanqa Dyantyi was a compulsive liar who twice tried to register at high school and college using fake report cards.

Mr Dyantyi broke his silence on Thursday, denying he was a fake and saying he had suffered a schizophrenic episode.

The Dispatch tracked down his relatives and former teachers, reporting that he dropped out of primary school in 1997, and had previously tried to pass himself off as a doctor and a teacher.

A Justice Department official told the paper that Mr Dyantyi had previously been investigated for allegedly submitting false claims amounting to 1.5 million rand ($145,000).

He had also been accused of holding a court official hostage with a brick.

ENews Channel Africa reported that Mr Dyantyi, whom they called Jantjie, had also faced a murder charge in 2003, though it was not clear what had happened to the case.

They said he had also faced rape, theft, housebreaking and kidnapping charges - though many of those charges were dropped because he was mentally unfit to stand trial. He was acquitted on the rape charge but convicted for theft, the website reported.

South Africa's arts and culture minister Paul Mashatile apologised to the deaf community on Friday for the scandal.

"Without passing judgement, nobody should be allowed to undermine our languages," he said in a statement. 

"We sincerely apologise to the deaf community and to all South Africans for any offence that may have been suffered."

He promised that the government would regulate the sign language profession to prevent such an incident happening again.

Meanwhile, there was chaos in Pretoria as thousands flocked to their last chance to see Mandela lying in state.

More than 50,000 people have already viewed the body over the last two days. Tens of thousands more had joined the queue by 7.30am, local media reported.

Most who saw the body obeyed the family's request not to take a photo, however, one picture was circulating on social media. 

A Mandela family spokesman said they had asked the government to investigate - though the government said it was a "distasteful" fake, not a genuine photograph.

"Without passing judgement, nobody should be allowed to undermine our languages," he said in a statement. 

"We sincerely apologise to the deaf community and to all South Africans for any offence that may have been suffered."


In Qunu, Xhosa tribe King Zwelonke Sigcawu said he wanted Mandela to be buried in the local Thembu cultural manner.

When Mandela's body arrives at his home in Qunu, the South African flag draped over his coffin will be replaced with a traditional Xhosa blanket, and local chiefs and male family members will gather for a private night vigil.

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A new list of dignitaries attending the funeral was released on Friday.

They include Prince Charles, Rev Jesse Jackson and several other heads of state and dignitaries.

One surprising inclusion was Zambian vice president Guy Scott, who made news earlier this year when he called South Africans "very backward".

"I hate South Africans," he added. "They really think they're the bees' knees and actually they've been the cause of so much trouble in this part of the world.

"I have a suspicion the blacks model themselves on the whites now that they're in power."

However, his invitation to the burial suggests that his comments have been forgiven.

Sinn Feinn leader Gerry Adams will be at a service on Saturday, but is not expected at the burial in Qunu.

- FFX Aus

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