JOHANNESBURG (CNN) — The sign language interpreter widely ridiculed for his performance at the Nelson Mandela memorial stands by his work.
Thamsanqa Jantjie said Thursday that he is a fully qualified interpreter and has been trusted in the past with other big events.
“It has been many years I have been doing this job” he told CNN. “My portfolio shows that I have been a champion of what I have been doing.”
Not so, says the head of the South Africa Translators’ Institute.
There were complaints last year after Jantjie interpreted the proceedings at the ruling African National Congress elective conference, the institute’s chairman, Johan Blaauw, told the South African Press Association.
But Jantjie stands by his work. “I have never in my life had anything that said I have interpreted wrong,” he said.
“For the deaf association, if they think that I have done a wrong interpretation, I ask forgiveness.”
He declined to provide details about his hire for the four-hour memorial service, watched by millions around the world, as a government inquiry looks into the matter.
He said he had been drawn to the job of interpreting because he was disabled.
“I am suffering from schizophrenia, which is controllable. I am under treatment,” Jantjie said.
At a news conference Thursday, Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu, South Africa’s deputy minister of women, children and people with disabilities, admitted that mistakes had happened at the memorial service but added that Jantjie was not a “fake.”
She said there was no sign language standard in South Africa and deaf people spoke different dialects.
Bogopane-Zulu also said the government tracked down the company Jantjie worked for, but the owners “seemed to have vanished.”
“They have obviously been providing substandard service for years,” she said.
Jantjie named his employer as a company called SA Interpreters. He did not give details about his training, saying his qualifications are filed with the company.
“You can look at my portfolio, it speaks for itself from the events that I have done in my country,” he said.
As outrage over his interpretation skills have grown, so have questions about who hired him.
A spokesman for the ANC said the party had not hired him for the Mandela event.
“We have used him on some occasions. But yesterday was not an ANC event. So we cannot answer for yesterday,” spokesman Jackson Mthembu said Wednesday.
The South African government was investigating the reports, said Collins Chabane, minister for performance monitoring and evaluation in the presidency.
The national director of the Deaf Federation of South Africa sees it differently. He said Jantjie had been dubbed a “fake interpreter.”
“The deaf community is in outrage,” said Bruno Druchen. “He is not known by the Deaf Community in South Africa nor by the South African Sign Language interpreters working in the field.”
The man showed no facial expressions, which are key in South African sign language, and his hand signals were meaningless, Druchen said. “It is a total mockery of the language,” he added.
While dignitaries addressed the crowd at Johannesburg’s FNB stadium, Jantjie produced a series of hand signals that experts said meant nothing.
“It was almost like he was doing baseball signs,” deaf actress Marlee Matlin told CNN on Wednesday, through a sign language interpreter. “I was appalled.”
Though each country has its own sign language, all of them entail facial expressions, she said. She called his lack of facial expression “a giveaway.”
“I knew exactly right then and there that he wasn’t authentic at all, and it was offensive; it was offensive to me.”
CNN’s Ed Payne and Kim Norgaard contributed to this report.