The sign language interpreter at the Nelson Mandela memorial event who repeatedly signed gibberish as world leaders addressed the crowd has previously faced a charge of murder, according to reports.

Thamsanqa Jantjie, 34, was thrust into the spotlight after deaf people watching Tuesday's memorial service for Mr Mandela revealed he repeatedly signed "nonsense" during the four-hour ceremony.

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South African news website eNCA reported that Jantjie, who justified his behaviour by saying he was schizophrenic and began to hear voices as he attempted to interpret the speeches, was charged with murder in 2003, as well as rape in 1994, theft in 1995, breaking into a house in 1997, malicious damage to property in 1998, and attempted murder and kidnapping in 2003.

The website said it was unclear if the 2003 murder case was ever concluded as the court file was found to be empty during their investigations.

It also reported that many of the charges brought against him were dropped, allegedly because he was mentally unfit to stand trial.

Mr Jantjie was acquitted on the rape charge, but he was convicted of theft for which he was sentenced to three years in prison. It's unclear if he served the jail time.

Mr Jantjie was approached by a reporter for the Associated press who asked him about the criminal charges, but he refused to comment.

The news is a further embarrassment to South African officials as it was revealed that Mr Jantjie had faked sign language at the memorial event.