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The curious case of the “fake” interpreter who signed at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service last week is getting more bizarre…and more violent.

A relative and three friends of Thamsanqa Jantjie say the interpreter was among a group of people who accosted two South African men found with a stolen television and burned them alive. Jantjie and the group reportedly set fire to tires placed around the men’s necks.

But according to the Associated Press, Jantjie never went to trial for the 2003 killings because authorities determined he was not mentally fit to stand trial. The other suspects, however, did go to trial in 2006.

Instead of standing trial, Jantjie was institutionalized for a period of longer than a year, the four said, and then returned to live in his poor township neighborhood 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.

The relative and friends who came forward to tell the story told a similar account of the one Jantjie 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.

If you recall, Jantjie came forward last week to tell the public he suffered from schizophrenic episodes and had a violent past.

Jantjie told the AP he has schizophrenia and hallucinated, seeing angels while gesturing incoherently just 3 feet away from 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 provide more details and blamed his violence on his schizophrenia, for which he said he was institutionalized for 19 months in a period that included time during 2006.

Jantjie was not at his house Monday, and his cousin told the AP Jantjie had been picked up by someone in a car Sunday and had not returned.

South African authorities continue their investigation into how Jantjie was given clearance to perform beside world leaders at the Mandela memorial. We’ll keep you updated on the latest in this bizarre situation.


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