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S. Africa probes Mandela memorial signer
S. Africa probes Mandela memorial signer

JOHANNESBURG: The South African government said on Friday it was investigating the hiring of a signer for the deaf at Nelson Mandela's memorial, as reports emerged alleging he had once faced a murder charge.

The signer, Thamsanqa Jantjie, had stood just feet from US President Barack Obama and other world leaders at Tuesday's event at the Soweto World Cup stadium.

He became a focus of media attention after organisations for the deaf accused him of being an imposter and signing gibberish throughout the memorial service.

Jantjie has insisted to the media that he is a qualified signer and claims he had suffered a schizophrenic attack that left him confused and hallucinating on stage.

The private South African TV channel eNCA alleged in a report Friday that he had faced violent criminal charges in the past, including murder and kidnapping.

Government spokeswoman Phumla Williams said the government was investigating whether a security lapse had taken place in hiring Jantjie and whether he was the professional signer he claims to be.

The eNCA report claimed Jantjie had faced a string of criminal charges between 1994 and 2003.

While most were withdrawn "allegedly because he was mentally unfit to stand trial," murder and attempted murder charges were referred to a high court, eNCA said.

The TV channel said it was unclear how the cases were resolved because the relevant judicial files were "empty."

Police told AFP they were aware of the media report, but could not confirm or deny such charges had been filed against Jantjie.

The national prosecution authority offered a similar response.

Contacted by telephone on Friday, Jantjie refused to discuss the incident, saying he was too busy drafting an explanation to the government.

"Yesterday I explained to all the media...(and) today I am busy with the government that wants my side of the story," he said.