The bogus sign language interpreter at last week’s Nelson Mandela memorial service was among a group of people who accosted two men found with a stolen television and burned them to death by setting fire to tyres placed around their necks, one of the interpreter’s cousins and three of his friends told reporters yesterday.
But Thamsanqa Jantjie never went to trial for the 2003 killings when other suspects did in 2006 because authorities determined he was not mentally fit to stand trial, the four said on condition of anonymity.
Their account of the killings matched a description of the crime and the outcome for Jantjie that he himself described in an interview published on Sunday by the Sunday Times newspaper of Johannesburg.
“It was a community thing, what you call mob justice, and I was also there,” Jantjie told the newspaper.
Jantjie’s cousin said Jantjie had been picked up by someone in a car on Sunday and had not returned to his house. His mobile phone rang through to an automatic message saying Jantjie was not reachable.
Instead of standing trial, Jantjie was institutionalised for a period of longer than a year, the four said, and then returned to live in his poor township neighbourhood on the outskirts of Soweto. At some point after that, they said, he started getting jobs doing sign language interpretation at events for the governing African National Congress Party.
Jantjie said last week he has schizophrenia and hallucinated, seeing angels while gesturing incoherently just three feet away from US president Barack Obama and other world leaders during the Tuesday ceremony at a Soweto stadium. Signing experts said his arm and hand movements were mere gibberish.
In the interview last Thursday, Jantjie said he had been violent in the past “a lot” but declined to elaborate and blamed his violence on his schizophrenia, for which he said he was institutionalised for 19 months, including time during 2006. The cousin and three friends said the “necklacing” killing of the suspected thieves occurred a few hundred metres from Jantjie’s home.
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