Schizophrenia Incident at the Nelson Mandela Memorial

As most of you are likely aware, Nelson Mandela recently passed from this life.  The South African government held a memorial for this influential leader and prior recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, which featured many other reputable members of global society.  Among these to speak was Barrack Obama, the current President of the United States, who spoke kindly of the deceased Mandela who also served as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999.

The reason this is news here at Schiz Life is due to a strange incident revolving around the sign language interpreter hired by the South African government.  The deaf community locally and around the world made us aware that the interpreter was signing very strange and non-sensical language to the crowd and televised audience.  As it turns out, the interpreter is a man with a history of schizophrenia who, most likely due to the high stress of the situation, had a relapse of symptoms.

Schizohprenia Episode Strikes Thamsanqa Jantjie

As the interpreter described, “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.”

Understandably, this was not a situation that was expected to occur.  This man, Thamsanqa Jantjie, has had a completely successful track record as a sign interpreter for big events and, of course, is fully qualified by all agencies involved.  Our concern, then, is not that this happened.  We feel very sorry for Mr. Jantjie for any embarrassment, shame, or grief he may experience over this situation.  We must focus on what impact this will have for the schizophrenic community at large.

According to Jantjie, he had what is described as a “full-blown episode” in which he began to see angels flying down into the stadium and could hear their voices.  He attempted to maintain his concentration and perform the task and job he was hired to complete, but as any of us would in this situation, he began to panic.  He attempted to continue gesturing the sign language to at least appear to be maintaining continuity, but alas, it ultimately began to make little sense to those who needed his services.

Political Implications of Schizophrenia at Mandela Tribute

The reason this is problematic in theory for politics is that Thamsanqa Jantjie has a self-admitted history of violence during these episodes.  When his hallucinations begin, he says, his reactions become outrageous.  He admits to being violent “a lot” and has previously run around naked in the streets.  He once held a person hostage during a similar episode.  To have a man with uncontrollable violent tendencies this near the President of any country is not acceptable, we understand.

We personally thank the South African government for giving this man the chance of a lifetime to pursue his passion, but we also frown upon the lapse in judgment used when hiring him as well, not only for the danger it placed our President in, but for the damage it does to the public’s image of schizophrenia.

Jantjie reported to media agencies that, due to his violent reactions, he has once spent a year and seven months in a schizophrenia treatment center.  He also said that he had enough clarity to realize that he must endure during this hard moment as to not embarrass his country or place himself in danger around the armed security.  We commend him for his efforts and are glad that he and all else involved are safe.

Please, in this time that is so critical for all of us who deal with schizophrenia symptoms, do your best to help educate those who will be talking about this incident.  The best we can do is continue to educate and raise the common understanding of schizophrenia to a level that does not reside in fear.