QUNU, South Africa — The South African government said Friday that it was looking into media reports that the man hired to provide deaf interpretation at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service had once been accused of murder and other serious crimes.
The reports added new intrigue to the scandal surrounding the supposed interpreter, who used incomprehensible sign language and later said he was a violence-prone schizophrenic who hallucinated.
The South African television station eNCA reported Friday that the man, Thamsanqa Jantjie, 34, who has been accused of providing bogus interpretation as he stood beside many world leaders during the memorial service Tuesday, had been charged with murder in 2003. He also faced charges of rape, theft, housebreaking, malicious damage to property, attempted murder, and kidnapping, dating to 1994, according to the news station.
A spokesman for the country’s National Prosecuting Authority, Nathi Mncube, said the agency could not confirm or deny the report because it was still searching for criminal records on Jantjie. The news station said it had taken less than 48 hours for it to uncover Jantjie’s record. The murder charge was resolved in 2006, the news station said, but the nature of the disposition was unclear.
Jantjie could not be reached for comment.
Deeply embarrassed by the scandal, the government has promised a full investigation into how Jantjie got the job. Sign language experts were outraged by his performance, saying he’d made a mockery of sign language interpretation during the memorial service.
His story became more bizarre on Thursday when Jantjie was quoted in multiple interviews as saying he had schizophrenia, sometimes reacted violently, and had seen angels descending into the Soweto sports stadium where the Mandela memorial was held.
Meanwhile, for a third and final day, thousands of South Africans filed past the body of Mandela on Friday before his glass-topped coffin was removed for the last time from the Union Buildings in the capital, Pretoria. Long lines of people waited in the gathering heat to catch a final glimpse of the man they credit with unifying the nation and presiding over the demise of apartheid rule.
To the strains of South Africa’s anthem — “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika,” or “God Bless Africa” — eight military pallbearers lifted the coffin from its catafalque under a temporary shelter in the same amphitheater where, 19 years ago, Mandela had taken the oath of office as his country’s first black president.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.