Mandela Memorial Interpreter Accused of Burning a Man to Death

The fall-out from the now-infamous deaf interpreter at last week's Nelson Mandela memorial in South Africa got even worse on Monday. 

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The fallout from the now-infamous deaf non-interpreter at last week's Nelson Mandela memorial in South Africa got even worse on Monday. According to a relative and multiple friends of  Thamsanqa Jantjie who spoke to the Associated Press, the "fake" sign language interpreter was part of a group who burned a man to death in 2003.

Jantjie reportedly attacked two other people who had a stolen television. Allegedly, the attackers put tires around the necks of the two men, and then set the tires on fire. While the other men involved were tried for the crime in 2006, Jantjie wasn't, allegedly because he was declared mentally unfit to stand trial. According to the AP's four sources, which includes one of his cousins, Jantjie went to a mental institution for a time after the alleged murder, and then returned home.

After it became clear that Jantjie's signing of the speeches at the memorial was unintelligible, Jantjie said that he was suffering from a schizophrenic episode on stage. He said that he saw "angels" coming into the stadium, that "Sometimes I get violent" during his episodes, that "sometimes I will see things chasing me." While the story can feel a bit like an increasingly sad side-show to the international memorialization of Mandela following his death, there are other concerns here. For one thing, Jantjie's work as interpreter placed him within an arm's reach of many world leaders who spoke at the public memorial, including President Obama. He also appeared to work at previous events alongside South African President Jacob Zuma. South African authorities are investigating how Jantjie, who at the very least thoroughly failed at the job he was hired to do, made it on stage at such an important event.

If this newest report is true, it seems to clarify an emerging mystery concerning Jantjie's history in the South African justice system. Late last week, a South African news network discovered that Jantjie had been charged with murder, attempted murder, and kidnapping in 2003. But the file containing the details of those charges was empty. The National Prosecuting Authority said that it can't find Jantjie's court records to follow-up on reports of his alleged criminal past, which includes accusations of rape, theft, and housebreaking. Jantjie himself has denied that he has ever done anything, telling USA Today that "I've never raped anybody ... I've never [done]… all of those things that they talked about."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.