1. Remember Thamsanqa Jantjie, the “fake” sign language interpreter at Nelson Mandela’s funeral who later admitted he was making it up?
2. Not only did he not know any sign language, it turned out he had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and had a violent past.
Jantie has faced a string of charges, including murder, rape and kidnapping – many of which were dropped because courts decided he was “mentally unfit to stand trial”, according to E-News South Africa.
He claimed he suffered a schizophrenic episode during the Mandela funeral that made him famous.
He was admitted to Sterkfontein Psychiatric Hospital near Johannesburg in December.
3. And now a technology start-up has put him in their latest advert.
In a press release, Israeli company Livelens claims it helped Jantjie “escape” from the hospital for the day to film the advert and said it was “thrilled to be bringing the very enthusiastic Thamsanqua onto our team,” making no reference to his condition.
In the ad he refers to the Mandela funeral, saying “I am really really sorry for what happened. Now I want to make it up to the whole world”.
4. The company says it got a Zulu-speaking journalist to visit the hospital and get Jantjie out for the day, on the premise of a “family visit”.
Livelens’s marketing manager Sefi Shaked told NBC News that the company had no problem with Jantjie being a psychiatric patient, adding that he was paid for his time.
“We saw him with our own eyes, he’s a normal guy … Now he can have the closure and earn some money from it. It’s morally right,” he said.
“At the end of the day, a schizophrenic guy got paid and did a nice campaign … We see it as sort of a sad story with a happy ending.”
National Association of the Deaf put out a statement expressing its “outrage and disappointment that any company would think it appropriate to hire and portray any individual who has become synonymous with mockery of sign language interpreting.”
Livelens hasn’t yet responded to BuzzFeed’s request for comment – we’ll update when they do.
5. This case raises huge ethical questions, mainly around whether Jantjie was exploited.
Leon De Beer, deputy director of the South African Federation for Mental Health, told BuzzFeed that while he couldn’t comment on this specific case, the federation “fully supports” people with mental disbilities working and making a living for themselves.
However, he said in a statement: “As a human rights organisation, we would always want to make sure that their rights are protected at all times, that they are not taken advantage of or discriminated against / marginalised under any circumstances, and that they are treated the same as others in all settings within the community and within the workplace.
“Because of this we would obviously be very opposed to any company exploiting persons with mental disabilities under any circumstances.”
6. Here’s the full advert.
7. UPDATE 16:00 BST: The company’s CEO, Max Bluvband, says the company had no intention to exploit Jantjie.
The entrepreneur told BuzzFeed this afternoon that Jintjie was able to leave hospital and take part in the video of his own free will and with permission.
“I think we did a very good thing – we didn’t take advantage of him,” he says. “We approached him in a very normal and regular way. Now he is getting back on his feet.”
He added that if the company had known the stunt might have offended people, they wouldn’t have done it.
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