Mandela Memorial Signer Was Part of a Man-Burning Group

Adding to the outrage following the "fake” sign-language translator at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service last Tuesday, the AP is now reporting that the bogus signer was not only schizophrenic, he was also at one point part of a group that burned men alive. The translator, Thamsanqa Jantjie, had previously admitted to being violent — adding that he’d once been hospitalized for a year in a mental-heath institution — but had been reluctant to give details. Now, it's pretty clear why.

According to the report, Jantijie was part of a mob who attacked two men found stealing a television. The group apparently poured petrol on rubber tires and then forced the tires around the thieves' necks, after which they set them on fire — a practice known as "necklacing" — burning the men alive. "Necklacing" began in the 1980s, when supporters of the African National Congress (ANC) began using it as a method of punishment for those who people deemed apartheid collaborators.

The killing happened less than a hundred yards from Jantijie's home, but although other suspects went to trial in 2006, Jantjie was reportedly considered mentally unfit to stand trial. Earlier reports have revealed previous charges of theft as well — one for which Jantijie still seems to have an outstanding arrest warrant. It remains unclear what help was provided to Jantijie after he left the mental health institution, and whether he was on any medication.

The slew of revelations about Jantjie have of course added to the embarrassment of the South African government, who have started an investigation to figure out just who's to blame for hiring the fake, and how he received security clearance. Although Janitije told the AP he was hired through an interpretation company that had been using him for years, the owners of the company seem to have mysteriously disappeared, and the address for the company (given by Jantijie), turned out to be for a different company entirely — one that had nothing to do with sign language interpretation.

As we previously pointed out, though, the worst thing to come from the bogus interpreter isn't actually anything from his past. It's that all this attention concentrated on him has taken away from the actual point of the memorial service: to remember Nelson Mandela. Worryingly, the outrage has been so focused on the "shamelessness" of the interpreter that the larger issue of mental health — a problem particularly relevant this week in the United States — has been completely ignored.