Mandela interpreter Jantjie now claims 'schizophrenic episode'

The Mandela funeral sign language interpreter's claim of schizoid episode is highly unlikely. Photo: (AP/Pool)

JOHANNESBURG , December, 12, 2013 — Thamsanqa Jantjie, the South African sign language interpreter accused of faking signing at Nelson Mandela’s funeral service, claimed to the Johannesburg newspaper “The Star he was suffering a schizophrenic episode during the event.

By all accounts of psychometrics (theory or technique of mental measurement), this explanation seems to not hold water.

There are several different types of schizophrenia, with the three most applicable to Jantijie’s explanation being paranoid, disorganized or undifferentiated. In every case, his claim to have had a “schizophrenic episode” would have been characterized by a combination or all of these symptoms: distortions of reality, disturbances of thought and language, and withdrawal from contact.

These behaviors are classic symptoms of acute schizophrenic episode and Jantjie claims to only have experienced difficulty with language. After the event, he was asked by local radio station Talk Radio 702 if he thought he did a good job. Jantjie responded “Absolutely! What I have been doing, I think, I have been a champion of sign language. I have interpreted many big events, not only the one that is in question now.”

Jantjie’s refusal to explain details of his qualifications and his insistence on deferring such questions to a non-existent booking company for his services casts other potential diagnosis for Jantjie.

Cara Loening, director of Sign Language Education and Development in Cape Town, disputed Jantjie’s self-proclaimed excellence by declaring “He wasn’t doing anything. There was not one sign there. Nothing. He was literally flapping his arms around.”

Psychology teaches us that if Jantjie was truly experiencing an acute episode of schizophrenic disorder, he would have had more outward symptoms than he revealed and would not take credit for a non-performance.

Jantjie most likely would not have appeared on a world stage at all if he was having an “episode” and panicked, then withdrawn from the responsibility. If he were medicated, he still would exhibit more than a singular symptom.

Perhaps Jantjie saw an opportunity for his 15 minutes of fame, has other personality disorders, and did not mind making a spectacle of himself in order to achieve notoriety.

If this is the case, he may have disorders equally as difficult to treat as schizophrenia.

Paul Mountjoy is a Virginia based writer and psychotherapist.


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Paul R. Mountjoy

Paul Mountjoy is a member of the American Psychological Association and the Association for Psychological Science

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