Fake Sign Language Guy Burned Two Men to Death As Part of a ‘Community Thing’

In these combination of pictures taken on December 10, 2013 US President Barack Obama delivers a speech next to sign language interpreter Thamsanqa Jantjie (R) during the memorial service for late South African President Nelson Mandela at Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg. South Africa's deaf community on December 11, 2013 accused the sign language interpreter at Nelson Mandela's memorial of being a fake, who had merely flapped his arms around during speeches. Mandela, the revered icon of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa and one of the towering political figures of the 20th century, died in Johannesburg on December 5 at age 95.
Clockwise from top left: Jantjie signing “murder, “penises touching,” and “Rocky IV,” and then just zoning out for a bit. Photo: ALEXANDER JOE/AFP/Getty Images

The more we learn about Thamsanqa Jantjie, the South African man responsible for introducing a groundbreaking new form of unintelligible sign language to the deaf community, the less it seems like he should have been standing anywhere near Important People at the Nelson Mandela memorial service a week ago — or anywhere, really.

According to an AP report, Jantjie was part of a group that punished two television thieves in 2003 by placing tires over their heads and burning them to death, but was never prosecuted “because authorities determined he wasn’t mentally fit.” Asked about the incident by a South African paper, Jantjie acknowledged that he was, perhaps, tangentially involved.  

“It was a community thing, what you call mob justice, and I was also there,” Jantjie said, matter-of-factly. What was he going to do — not participate in the death mob, like some kind of social outcast? You have to at least show your face at these things or the community will gossip. 

Back to the only question that really matters: How, out of all of South Africa’s mentally unstable, potentially homicidal people who don’t know sign language — probably dozens if not hundreds of worthy alternatives— was Jantjie selected to work at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service?

We still don’t know. Jantjie is, in fact, employed by an actual interpretation business, which in turn is owned by the head of the “religious and traditional affairs desk” of the ANC — South Africa’s ruling political party. But he’s employed as “an administrator and facilitator,” the ANC official insists, not an interpreter.

He was disqualified years ago on the basis of his health. He was interpreting at the memorial service in his personal capacity.”

Hey, we’d like to play for the Yankees in a “personal capacity,” but there are a number of barriers to that happening. For example, we are very bad at baseball, and the Yankees would refuse to pay us to play baseball for them. Additionally, if we tried to play anyway, a number of people would physically prevent us from getting on the field. Jantjie somehow managed to overcome these obstacles, and it’s not clear how. But at least, like everyone else who attended the memorial service, he was checked for weapons and burning tires before he could enter the stadium:

There were no security checks upon entry to the stadium,” a local South African activist wrote Friday in a letter to the Johannesburg Star newspaper. “I walked freely to my seat without passing through metal detectors, being searched or any other check.”

The stadium’s main entrance was “completely unattended,” a reporter for a Washington, D.C., television station told Politico. “There were no workers performing bag checks or pat-downs — there were no magnetometers to walk through, no metal detector wands being used — anywhere.”

At least he didn’t decide to murder President Obama or other world leaders, which he easily could have done if he wanted to, we mean. 

Fake Sign Language Guy Once Burned Two Men Alive