Security blunder exposed Obama

13 December 2013 - 02:12 By GRAEME HOSKEN
INSPIRED: US President Barack Obama pays tribute to Nelson Mandela yesterday Picture:
INSPIRED: US President Barack Obama pays tribute to Nelson Mandela yesterday Picture:

World leaders, including US President Barack Obama, were put at risk at the Nelson Mandela memorial service.

Thamsanqa Jantjie hit international headlines when it emerged that he "translated" the speeches of several world leaders, including Obama and UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, in "gibberish" pseudo sign language.

Jantjie has admitted that he is subject to violent episodes attributable to his mental condition.

A Justice Department official yesterday told The Times that Jantjie had been investigated by the department for submitting false expenses claims of R1.5-million a day.

He has also been investigated for holding a Boksburg, East Rand, court official hostage and threatening him with a brick, according to the official.

Jantjie refused to speak to The Times, saying: "There is lightning ... it is raining ... it is dangerous."

He told Associated Press that he was schizophrenic and had begun to hallucinate while interpreting at the service. Jantjie claimed he saw angels and "things" that tried to chase him.

"I don't know the attack of this problem [sic] how will it come. Sometimes I react violent [sic]," he said.

Jantjie is believed to have been due for his six-monthly medical check-up on the day of the service.

President of the SA Society of Psychiatrists Dr Gerhard Grobler said: "The society condemns the misrepresentation of mental illness as an excuse for incompetence."

Institute of Security Studies policing researcher Johan Burger said that placing Jantjie near world leaders was a major security blunder.

"His level of vetting should have been the highest - everything about his background, including mental health, links to radical groups and criminal records, would have to be checked."

Burger said it had to be assumed that whoever did the vetting did not do an adequate job.

Deputy Minister for Women, Children and People with Disabilities Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu said government officials had tried to track down the company that supplied Jantjie as a signer but the owners of the company "have vanished into thin air". - Additional reporting by Katharine Child and Sapa-AP