Some call him fake

The performance artist, as I like to think of him, who appeared alongside Barack Obama and other notable speakers in Soweto at the memorial ceremony honoring Nelson Mandela has taken a lot of abuse as a fake signer for the deaf. I prefer to think he was adding an interpretive element to the form.

Now comes Alan Glendenning to report for the AP that the artist said Thursday he saw “angels” at the event, has been violent in the past and suffers from schizophrenia. Glendenning reports from Johannesburg:

Thamsanqa Jantjie said in a 45-minute interview with The Associated Press that his hallucinations began while he was interpreting and that he tried not to panic because there were “armed policemen around me.” He added that he was once hospitalized in a mental health facility for more than one year.

Jantjie, who stood gesticulating three-feet (1 meter) from Obama and others who spoke at Tuesday’s ceremony that was broadcast around the world, insisted that he was doing proper sign-language interpretation of the speeches of world leaders.

But he also apologized for his performance that has been dismissed by many sign-language experts as gibberish.

“Gibberish” seems a bit harsh. Given the guy’s schizophrenia, if that is the condition he struggles with, characterizing his performance as such may even be a hate crime.

That is not to say that his performance should not be subject to fair criticism. When it came to Obama, I thought Mr. Jantjie’s interpretation was off — too much kissing and saluting, not enough shoveling over the shoulder.

Glendenning adds this note for the Secret Service:

Asked how often he had become violent, he said “a lot” while declining to provide details.

They might want to file that away for future reference.

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