South Africa’s deputy disability minister says the government is investigating how a man who faked sign language at the Mandela memorial was given security clearance.
Thamsanqa Jantjie, who stood alongside world leaders at the event, has denied being a fraud, and said he panicked when he began hallucinating.
He said he had schizophrenia, which had in the past made him act violently.
The agency that employed him, SA Interpreters, has reportedly vanished.
South Africa’s Deputy Disability Minister Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu admitted that hiring an unqualified sign language interpreter was a mistake but denies suggestions that the government should be embarrassed.
However, many South Africans, deaf people around the world and no doubt the US presidential security team will disagree.
Ms Bogopane-Zulu says the agency through which Thamsanqa Jantjie was recruited has “vanished into thin air” after providing a sub-standard service for many years – previous clients are said to have included other government agencies and the ANC.
Nobody has yet admitted to recruiting SA Interpreters and Mr Jantjie, but whoever was responsible will no doubt be asked to make a similar mea culpa.
This scandal is partially overshadowing the national mourning for Nelson Mandela, who continues to lie in state. South Africa will hope the outstanding questions will be answered before his funeral on Sunday.
The African National Congress (ANC) said it had used Mr Jantjie as an interpreter several times before, and “had not been aware of any of complaints regarding the quality of services, qualifications or reported illnesses” of the interpreter.
But it said Tuesday’s memorial at a stadium in Johannesburg was organised by the state, not the ANC, so the ruling party could not comment on security arrangements.
The South African Translators’ Institute said earlier there had been complaints over Mr. Jantjie’s work before, but that the ANC had taken no action.
The ANC said it would “follow up the reported correspondence that has supposedly been sent to us in this regard and where necessary act on it”.
Mr. Mandela died last week at the age of 95, and will be buried on Sunday.
His body is currently lying in state in Pretoria, with thousands queuing to pay their respects.
During the memorial, Mr Jantjie (also spelt Dyantyi) stood on the stage next to key speakers including US President Barack Obama, South African President Jacob Zuma and Mr. Mandela’s grandchildren, translating their eulogies.

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