UK
16/12/2013 17:41 GMT | Updated 23/01/2014 06:38 GMT

Did Mandela Sign Language Man Take Part In Brutal 'Necklacing' Murder?

The man who caused a world-wide furore over his fake sign language at Nelson Mandela's funeral was part of a gang of "necklacers", who murdered opponents by setting fire to tyres placed round their necks, reports allege.

Thamsanqa Jantjie, who has claimed he suffered an attack of schizophrenia as he signed along to speeches, was allegedly part of a group who burned two men to death for stealing, his cousin and three friends have told the Associated Press.

Jantjie admitted having been present at one such attack, in an interview with South Africa's Sunday Times.

thamsanqa jantjie

Sign language interpreter Thamsanqa Jantjie, who was interpreting at the memorial service of late former president Nelson Mandela

Necklacing was a particularly brutal method of mob justice, usually reserved for black informers who aided the apartheid regime, rather than petty crimes like stealing a television.

In 1986 Winnie Mandela, then-wife of the imprisoned Nelson Mandela, said in a speech: "With our boxes of matches and our necklaces we shall liberate this country". This was widely seen as an endorsement of necklacing as a way to punish informants.

A rubber tyre, filled with petrol, is forced around a victim's chest and arms, and set on fire. It is a long, and very painful death, lasting up to 20 minutes.

Jantjie, who was responsible for communicating the speeches of President Barack Obama and other heads of state, was simply "making childish hand gestures" for hours, David Buxton, the CEO of the British Deaf Association, said.

Investigators "will compile a comprehensive report," according to Phumla Williams, the top government spokeswoman. "We are not going to sweep it under the carpet," Williams told reporters. "We want to own up if there is a mistake, but we don't want to be dishonest" to Jantjie.

Jantjie was never imprisoned, AP reported, but was institutionalised for around a year. It was after this that he began work doing sign language interpretation for the African National Congress Party.