A Saint Mary's University professor and member of Nova Scotia's deaf community says it didn't take long for her to realize something was wrong with the motions and gestures used by the purported sign language interpreter at Nelson Mandela's memorial.

Linda Campbell, with the Saint Mary's University environmental science department, said the interpreter's gestures were "similar to something you might see on Saturday Night Live."

As one world leader after another paid homage to Nelson Mandela at a memorial service on Tuesday, the man standing at arm's length from them appeared to interpret their words in sign language.

The man, now identified as Thamsanqa Jantjie, stood gesticulating one metre from U.S. President Barack Obama and others who spoke at Tuesday's ceremony as it was broadcast around the world. In an interview with the Associated Press on Tuesday, Jantjie said he hallucinated that angels were entering the stadium. He suffers from schizophrenia and has been violent in the past.

Jantjie insisted he was doing proper sign language interpretation of the speeches of world leaders. But he also apologized for his performance that has been dismissed by many sign language experts as a fake.

South Africa Mandela Interpreter

The interpreter on stage for Mandela memorial during the speeches of such world leaders as U.S. President Barack Obama, Thamsanqa Jantjie, says he was hallucinating. (Matt Dunham/Associated Press)

Campbell said when she noticed something wasn't right with the interpreter, she looked on Twitter and saw a torrent of posts reacting to the "faker."

"I could tell that it was gestures and that there was no structure. It seemed very odd, the movements," Campbell signed, through interpreter Susan Cargill on CBC's Mainstreet.

'Hearts were broken'

"If you hear an auditory language that's not your own native language, you can tell it's a language because you can hear the pattern to the language and the flow and the accent and so forth. You can tell if someone is making up gibberish in a spoken language and the idea is similar with sign language."

Campbell said she was upset by Jantjie's performance and so were other people in Nova Scotia's deaf community.

"Hearts were broken," she said.

"That there was a fake interpreter, an imposter there on that world stage, it's a powerful message of disrespect for all of the people attending the event and that's what the [deaf] community is upset about."

Campbell said she hasn't run into to this type of problem in Halifax but said she has worked with interpreters who lacked some skills.

"In South Africa, they do have very skilled interpreters there, so it wouldn't be difficult to hire a person qualified to do that work. The ironic part is that they have interpreters there … so why did they hire a fake interpreter for the stage?" said Campbell.

Jantjie said he received one year of sign language interpretation at a school in Cape Town and insisted that he has previously interpreted at many events without anyone complaining.

The Associated Press showed Jantjie video footage of him interpreting on stage at the Mandela memorial service.

"I don't remember any of this at all," he said.

Government officials have tried to track down the company that provided Jantjie but the owners "have vanished into thin air," said Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu, deputy minister of Women, Children and People with Disabilities.

She apologized to deaf people around the world for Jantjie's incomprehensible signing and said an investigation is under way to determine how Jantjie was hired and what vetting process, if any, he underwent for his security clearance.