QUNU, South Africa — He stood with a deadpan expression just inches from President Obama and other world leaders speaking at Nelson Mandela’s memorial, dressed in a dark suit, with a blue security lanyard bearing the words “state funeral” draped around his neck, flapping his arms and gesticulating in what was supposed to be sign language for the deaf.
But on Thursday, the bizarre story of the supposed interpreter, identified as Thamsanqa Jantjie, who is accused by sign-language experts of being a fraud, took a yet stranger turn when in a series of interviews he said he suffered from schizophrenia, had visions of angels while he was supposed to be interpreting for global dignitaries and begged forgiveness.
On Wednesday sign language experts expressed outrage that an impostor who was clearly illiterate in the linguistic skills of signing could have pulled off such a stunt. He was a constant presence on the stage of the national memorial on Tuesday, watched not only by the audience in the vast soccer stadium in Soweto but by hundreds of millions on television.
“This ‘fake interpreter’ has made a mockery of South African sign language and has disgraced the South African sign language-interpreting profession,” said Bruno Druchen, the national director of DeafSA, a Johannesburg advocacy organization for the deaf. In a statement posted on the organization’s Facebook page, Mr. Druchen said, “The deaf community is in outrage.”
In an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday, Mr. Jantjie acknowledged his condition, saying: “What happened that day, I see angels come to the stadium.”
“I start realizing that the problem is here. And the problem, I don’t know the attack of this problem, how will it come. Sometimes I get violent on that place. Sometimes I will see things chasing me.”
“I was in a very difficult position,” Mr. Jantjie went on. “And remember those people, the president and everyone, they were armed, there was armed police around me. If I start panicking I’ll start being a problem. I have to deal with this in a manner so that I mustn’t embarrass my country.”
“I would like to tell everybody that if I have offended them, please forgive me. I was doing what I believe makes a difference in the country,” he said.
In another conversation with The Star newspaper, Mr. Jantjie, 34, said he had started hearing voices and hallucinating while on stage in the FNB stadium in Soweto.
“There was nothing I could do. I was alone in a very dangerous situation. I tried to control myself and not show the world what was going on. I am very sorry. It’s the situation I found myself in,” he said.
And, in yet another interview with Talk Radio 702 in Johannesburg, he defended his performance during the memorial.
“Absolutely, absolutely. I think that I’ve been a champion of sign language,” he said.
Two days after the episode, the South African authorities gave their first account of what happened, saying that a mistake had been made. Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu, the Deputy Minister for Women, Children and People with Disabilities, told reporters that government officials had been unable to locate the company that hired Mr. Jantjie and an investigation was underway into his security clearance.
The news that a mentally disturbed man was having hallucinations a few feet away from President Barack Obama and other visiting dignitaries will likely only add fuel to the controversy of how he ended up onstage at the event in the first place.
The national embarrassment over the fraudulent interpreter was only one of a number of things that seemed to go wrong in the government’s organization and management of the memorial event, adding to the perception of sloppiness and haste in preparations following Mr. Mandela’s death last week. Many South Africans who had wanted to attend complained that public transportation had failed, with buses that never arrived.
The aftermath of Mr. Mandela’s death was also befouled by news reports on Wednesday that burglars had broken into the Cape Town home of another revered figure in South Africa’s antiapartheid struggle, the Nobel laureate Desmond M. Tutu. The burglary took place while he was attending the memorial service, according to the newspaper Cape Times.
Mr. Druchen’s statement punched many holes in the sign-language interpreter’s credibility.
He did not, for instance, use the established signs for Mr. Mandela or President Jacob Zuma. His hand shapes were meaningless. He failed to use facial expressions, head movement, shoulder-raising or other body language considered integral elements of signing.
“It is a total mockery of the language,” the statement said.