JOHANNESBURG – Just when it seemed the scandal over the bogus sign language interpreter at Nelson Mandelas memorial had run its course, a cousin and three friends say he was part of a mob that accosted two men found with a stolen television and burned them to death by setting fire to tires placed around their necks.
Thamsanqa Jantjie never went to trial for the 2003 killings when other suspects did because authorities determined he was not mentally fit to stand trial, the four told The Associated Press on Monday. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the fake signing fiasco, which has deeply embarrassed South Africas government and prompted a high-level investigation into how it happened.
Their account of the killings matched a description of the crime and the outcome for Jantjie that he himself described in an interview published by the Sunday Times newspaper of Johannesburg.
It was a community thing, what you call mob justice, and I was also there, Jantjie told the newspaper.
Instead of standing trial in 2006, Jantjie was institutionalized for more than a year, the four said, and then returned to live in his poor township neighborhood on the outskirts of Soweto.
At some point after that, they said, he started getting jobs doing sign language interpretation at events for the governing African National Congress party.
The 2003 killings, carried out by a grisly method known as necklacing, occurred a few hundred yards from Jantjies tidy concrete home, according to the cousin and friends, one of whom described himself as Jantjies best friend.
Necklacing attacks were fairly common during the struggle against apartheid, carried out by blacks on blacks suspected of aiding the white government or belonging to opposing factions. But while people who encounter suspected thieves in South Africa have been known to beat or kill them to mete out punishment, necklacing has been rare in such cases.