"There was nothing I could do," the man, identified as Thamsanqa Jantjie, says of the episode

By Tim Nudd
December 12, 2013 07:35 AM
Evan Vucci/AP

The man who stood next to President Obama and other world leaders and faked sign language during Tuesday’s memorial for Nelson Mandela says he suffers from schizophrenia and had an attack that caused him to hear voices and hallucinate on stage.

The man, identified as Thamsanqa Jantjie, 34, claims he is a real interpreter but that a schizophrenic episode caused him to lose concentration and start making meaningless signs, reports South Africa’s Star newspaper.

“There was nothing I could do,” Jantjie tells the paper. “I was alone in a very dangerous situation. I tried to control myself and not show the world what was going on. I am very sorry, it’s the situation I found myself in.”

He added: “Life is unfair. This illness is unfair. Anyone who doesn’t understand this illness will think that I’m just making this up.”

Jantjie says he did not skip his medication, and that it could have been the momentous occasion or the extreme happiness he felt that day that triggered the attack.

An investigation is ongoing.

Meanwhile, the deaf community is outraged by the episode. A spokesman for South Africa’s National Institute for the Deaf said the organization was “saddened that the deaf in attendance could not understand what other great statesmen said about the legacy that the father of our nation leaves behind.”