Gruesome allegations have emerged in South Africa that the “fake” sign language interpreter at the Nelson Mandela memorial service was involved in a mob which killed two men by burning them to death.
Thamsanqa Jantjie is currently the subject of an inquiry into how he was allowed to appear at the service a week ago alongside world leaders, including US President Barack Obama.
Questions have been raised over the screening of the man who has been the subject of complaints from the deaf community before, and who said he had hallucinations and saw angels while interpreting at the stadium in Soweto.
A cousin and three friends of Mr Jantjie have now said he was part of a group which caught two men with a stolen television, beat them and then set fire to tyres placed around their necks.
Other suspects were prosecuted for the killings in 2003 but Mr Jantjie was deemed not mentally fit to stand trial, the four men told The Associated Press.
Instead of facing the courts in 2006, Mr Jantjie was placed in a mental health institution for more than a year, after which he returned to live in a poor neighbourhood of Johannesburg. It was after this point that he started doing jobs interpreting sign language at African National Congress (ANC) events, the men said.
Their account matches the details and outcome of the 2003 incident as described by Mr Jantjie himself in an interview with South Africa’s Sunday Times. He said: “It was a community thing, what you call mob justice, and I was also there.”
The method of the killings, known as “necklacing”, was reportedly relatively common during the period of struggle against apartheid. While so-called “mob justice” attacks on thieves still occur across South Africa, using tyres to burn people to death is now rare.
Government officials said that an investigation is underway to determine who hired Mr Jantjie for the Mandela memorial service, and whether he received security clearance. They have not said how long the investigation will take.
Four government departments involved in organising the memorial service have since distanced themselves from the interpreter, telling The Associated Press they had no contact with him.
Mr Jantjie said he was hired by an interpretation company where he has worked on a freelance basis for years. Yet the company was not recognised by any representatives for deaf people in South Africa, and the address he gave was occupied by a completely unrelated organisation.
The Deaf Federation of South Africa has said it filed a complaint with the ANC about bogus signing by Jantjie at a previous event where South African President Jacob Zuma was present.
“We will follow up the reported correspondence that has supposedly been sent to us in this regard and where necessary will act on it,” the ANC said in a statement last week.