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May 7, 2014 10:35 am

Bogus Sign Language Interpreter Says Debacle at Mandela Funeral Has Helped South Africans With Disabilities (INTERVIEW)

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Thamsanqa Jantjie in the promo for Livelens. Photo: Screenshot.

South Africans with disabilities have gained an unlikely spokesperson.

The infamous bogus sign language interpreter from Nelson Mandela’s funeral has returned to the limelight today, giving his first interview as a spokesperson for Israeli live streaming app LiveLens to The Algemeiner.

Thamsanqa Jantjie gained international notoriety for his comical hand movements as he stood alongside world leaders, including President Obama, as they delivered their final remarks to the legendary leader. He claimed he suffered from schizophrenia and was admitted to a mental health institution.

Now, Jantjie says he is pleased that the incident has helped bring the plight of people with disabilities in South Africa into the spotlight.

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“When they say everything happens for a good reason, I think it is one of those,” he said of the funeral debacle. “We call it a  blessing in disguise.”

“That was a great, great funeral that has bring so much change in terms of people with disabilities,” Jantjie said.

“What I am currently doing now, it is an open road, look… the President of South Africa, which is Jacob Zuma… has introduced sign language as an official language, that every child could study it at school,” he added. “Those things would never happen if I’ve never blow a whistle at the funeral of Mandela.”

The incident that took place at Mandela’s funeral, he explained, “has opened many things, it has shown the whole world what’s going on in my country… how they use people, and how they take people with disability for granted.”

“If I never was on that funeral, people wouldn’t know,” he said. “People would think everything is okay, but what if things are not okay?”

“Let me tell you, I grew up very, very, very poor and then I will die very, very, very poor because I am disabled.”

“People with disability can do many things as you can see… people with disabilities they have got jobs, they create jobs, they are in business, but not in South Africa. South Africa is a very horrible place to live with a disability.”

While some government grants are available for those in need, Jantjie said that they are barely sufficient to cover basic costs and that it is impossible for people with disabilities to get jobs in the South Africa.

“But once that funeral of Mandela, it has opened doors for many kids that are suffering from schizophrenia,” he said. “The intention is quite clear, that our government… will start doing, creating jobs for people with disabilities.”

“It has opened many doors  for students now asking that the president… give a pass for the kids who are going to university next year to study sign language in university. That wouldn’t happen if I was not in the Mandela funeral. But because of that funeral and because of that exposure and because of that embarrassment, they had to do something.”

Suffering from his condition, Jantjie said that he “was one of the people who was being used.”

“Remember, this was not even said, but as a salary I was receiving on all the production I was doing, I could never get any salary that was sufficient to raise any future, to raise any kids of mine. Somebody was claiming the money in my name and take the money and give me change,” he asserted.

Jantjie credits the leaders at LiveLens, including CEO Max Bluvband and Head of Marketing Sefi Shaked, with helping turn his life around.

“Let me tell you, number one, for the first time they called me and for the first time they gave me an opportunity that it has sustained my life, it has changed my life,” he said. “Right now… I am with my kids, I take them out, I feel like a father. Right now I am with my wife, I can buy something for my wife. They made me a husband, they made me a father, they made me a neighbor, people like them… God could keep them to assist people like us who are suffering, I was poor but at least now I have got something.”

In a promotional clip for the company, released Tuesday, Jantjie is seen speaking and then interpreting his own comments in fake sign language. He apologizes for the Mandela incident, saying, “I am really, really sorry for what happened.”

“Now I make it up to the whole world,” he says, interpreting the comment in sign language as, “Now I do campaign for money.” He then introduces the company as “an an app that allows you to broadcast live to your friends and followers.”

“Remember the most interesting things happen live,” he adds, in the bizarre footage.

Jantjie said he has now been approached by other companies for promotional work but he is contracted by LiveLens exclusively for now. However, he didnt rule out the possibility of creating more videos to promote the groundbreaking app.

“I am very, very glad to be a part of it,” he said, adding that he was “flattered” to have been offered the role.

Regarding the funeral incident, he said that while it was stressful at first, he has since moved on. He explained, “people sympathize with me and people wherever I am, they want a chance to be friends with me, I tell you I quite enjoy it.”

Asked by The Algemeiner if he plans to actually learn sign language one day, Jantjie laughed heartily, going on to stress the wider context of the question.

“Yes, ya, you know education is part of everyone’s life and if I got an opportunity to go to any institution I will be more than happy to learn because it is something that I love it and it is one of the scarce things in South Africa. Currently in South Africa we have got a problem of shortage of sign language interpreters and so on.”

But, he added, “we can not even focus only on sign language, lets talk about braille for instance… in South Africa we have got very, very few people that specialize in braille. Some of those things I want to be a part of them. ”

“I will continue to liberate the system that makes it difficult for the South African government to take sign language and the braille language very serious,” he said. “Remember it is not about who makes the mistake, it is about what you want to win.”

“When you see something is burning, you do something to stop the fire, you don’t sit there and scream ‘Hey. People who are trying to solve the problem of the fire, they didn’t do right.’ People should stop being concerned about these things and do something and stop criticizing other people.”

LiveLens’s Shaked chimed in, saying that Jantjie does indeed speak sign language, but that his condition got the better of him at Mandela’s funeral.

“I have seen him speak in sign language with the deaf hairdresser on the set but he also suffers from schizophrenia, which caused the terrible incident, which he is sorry about. And if you ask if he plans to learn, he took it as if he plans to teach and he answered you accordingly,” Shaked said.

Watch the promotional video for LiveLens below:

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