During Nelson Mandela’s Memorial Service last week, this sign language imposter infuriated the deaf community by signing “nonsense signs” and “gibberish” while feigning to interpret the speakers at the service. Could this embarrassing situation have been prevented with a thorough pre-employment screening and background check? Many comedians have come forward, poking fun at the humurous side of the story such as Jimmy Kimmel’s segment where he had a real interpreter try to decipher the signs of Thamsanqa Jantjie: Jimmy Kimmel Segment.
It’s all very funny until you realize how dangerous the situation was because this man did not have a thorough background check and pre-employment screening before being allowed to appear on stage just feet away from important dignataries and heads of state.
While it is still unclear if or how he passed a background check and got security clearance to be standing where he was, Worldnews on NBC News.com reported that he had surfaced at another event translating for President Jacob Zuma’s speech at a military event in 2012. Reports of a criminal arrest record has been surfacing for Thamsanqa Jantjie including a rape charge (1994), theft (1995), housebreaking (1997), malicious damage to property (1998), murder, attempted murder and kidnapping charges (2003). In addition it was found that he is being treated for schizophrenia and has admitted to having hallucinations while he was on stage and “seeing angels.” A cousin of Jantjie and three of his friends reported to the Associated Press that he was charged with murder because he was “among a group of people who accosted two men found with a stolen television and burned them to death by setting fire to tires placed around their necks.” The AP reported “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.” Instead, Jantjie was insitutionalized for a perod of longer than a year. Soon after he was released, he started getting sign language interpretation jobs for the governing African National Congress Party. In an interview last Thursday, Jantjie admitted to having violent episodes.
When questioned on how someone like this could have gotten so close to President Obama, the Secret Service’s reply was, “Agreed upon measures between the U.S. Secret Service and South African Government security officials were in place during the recent memorial service in Johannesburg. Program items such as stage participants or sign language interpreters were the responsibility of the host organizing committee.”
The South African government is investigating who hired Jantjie as the onstage interpreter at the Madela memorial service and how (or if) he passed a background check and was given security clearance.
A comprehensive thorough background investigation would have prevented this terrible mishap and most likely reduced the overall exposure to such a violent person.
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