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December 12, 2013

Interpreter at Mandela event: I was hallucinating

JOHANNESBURG — The man accused of faking sign-language while standing alongside world leaders like U.S. President Barack Obama at Nelson Mandela's memorial service said Thursday he saw "angels" at the event, has been violent in the past and suffers from schizophrenia.

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 3 feet 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.

"I would like to tell everybody that if I've offended anyone, please, forgive me," Jantjie said in his concrete home in a low-income Johannesburg neighborhood. "But what I was doing, I was doing what I believe is my calling, I was doing what I believe makes a difference."

The statements by Jantjie raise serious security issues for Obama, other heads of state and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon who made speeches at FNB Stadium in Soweto, Johannesburg's black township. The ceremony honored Mandela, the anti-apartheid icon and former president who died on Dec. 5. Many of them, including Obama, stood one yard (meter) away from Jantjie.

"What happened that day, I see angels come to the stadium ... I start realizing that the problem is here. And the problem, I don't know the attack of this problem, how will it comes. Sometimes I react violent on that place. Sometimes I will see things that chase me," Jantjie said.

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