S. African interpreter says he never murdered, raped anyone

11:16 PM, Dec 14, 2013   |    comments
Sign language interpreter Thamsanqa Jantjie, who was interpreting at the memorial service of late former president Nelson Mandela speaks at his home in Bramfischerville, South Africa, on Dec. 11, 2013. (Photo: Itumeleng English, AP)
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The sign language interpreter accused of being a fraud at Nelson Mandela's memorial service denied allegations of rape and murder during an interview Saturday with USA TODAY Network.

"I've never raped anybody ... I've never [done]... all of those things that they talked about," said Thamsanqa Jantjie.

South African TV news outlet eNCA reported Fridaythat Jantjie, 34, has a long criminal record that includes charges of murder and kidnapping in 2003, rape in 1994 and theft in1995. Many of the charges, according to eNCA, were withdrawn. USA TODAY Network has not been able to independently verify these claims.

USA TODAY Network reached out to the South African government's press office and the National Prosecuting Authority of South Africa for comment on the alleged charges but did not receive an immediate response.

During the phone interview, Jantjie deflected questions about whether he had faced charges for the alleged crimes, insisting that he wanted to discuss "the day in question," referring to Mandela's memorial service on Tuesday.

Jantjie was widely criticized for his interpreting work during the memorial, where he stood close to President Obama and other leaders. Jantjie has been called an imposter by sign experts.

"I've been doing this job for a quite number of years without any complaints. I've done many international events for my country without any complaints," Jantjie said.

Francois Deysel, a sign language interpreter with the Deaf Federation of South Africa, said Thursday that Jantjie was slammed in 2012 at the 100th anniversary celebration of the African National Conference, South Africa's ruling party.

After watching the video of the event, Deysel and his colleagues concluded, "There was no sign language used. It was only slapping of hands and movement of arms."

Jantjie acknowledged that he suffers from schizophrenia. He said he is taking medications and sees doctors regularly. He said he has been hospitalized before for mental health issues.

The South African government has promised an investigation into Jantjie's hiring and his past. Jantjie said during the phone interview that he was paid 800 South African rand for the event, which equates to about $77.

"I did [the] best of my ability aside from the issue of my illness," Jantjie said.

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