Death of IFP's Oriani-Ambrosini draws warm tributes

Inkatha Freedom Party MP Mario Oriani-Ambrosini. (Gallo)

Inkatha Freedom Party MP Mario Oriani-Ambrosini. (Gallo)

The death of South Africa’s “adopted son”, Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) MP Mario Oriani-Ambrosini, drew warm tributes in Parliament on Tuesday and celebrations of his achievements in the fight for press freedom and medical alternatives in the fight against cancer, among many others. 


“[It was] the greatest privilege of my life to have had Mario Ambrosini at my side as friend and adviser,” IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi, said. Buthelezi asked that South Africa honour him for founding the parliamentary institute of South Africa, for being a “warrior against the secrecy Bill”, for being the “grand architect of the reform of the immigration system”. 

“We all know of his brilliant mind, his intellect and talent, both as a constitutional lawyer and a member of Parliament. [He was a] complex man given both to fiery displays of anger and overwhelming acts of magnanimity ... He was both gentle and fierce, compelling and kind. He had a wonderful sense of humour.” 

The 53-year-old “decided to end his long… battle with cancer”, Buthelezi said, reading from a statement by Oriani-Ambrosini’s family, and died on Saturday morning at his home in Cape Town. 

Committed suicide
According to a Sapa report, eNCA reporting on Tuesday morning that Oriani-Ambrosini had committed suicide.

“In a characteristically, clearly considered ...
decision on Saturday morning the 16th of August at 2014, Mario Oriani-Ambrosini decided to end his long-fought battle with cancer and the unbearable suffering and pain he had to endure towards the end,” said the IFP leader.

Buthelezi said Ambrosini was facing the imminent failure of his body from lung cancer after both conventional and alternative therapies failed to cure him. 

“He was not able to eat and was dependent on an oxygen machine. Many times over the past few weeks Dr Ambrosini told his closest friends that his greatest source of suffering was not his disease, but was the knowledge that his family were facing a harrowing journey towards his death.” 

Buthelezi said Ambrosini’s decision to end his life was “made out of compassion for his family: his son, his wife, his mother, his sisters and brothers”. 

The IFP leader’s voice broke at times as he revealed that Ambrosini sent a message to his closest friends prior to his suicide.

Legalise medical marijuana
The Italy-born MP introduced in February the Medical Innovation Bill to legalise the use of medical marijuana and pleaded with President Jacob Zuma to provide laws that gave doctors the power to prescribe alternative treatments. 

In 2012 he took his challenge of the constitutional validity of the rules of the national assembly all the way to the constitutional court, and won.  DA MP Wilmot James, reminded Parliament that Oriani-Ambrosini “viscerally cared about justice”.  

“He cared about unemployment and poverty … He once said to me that all of us… the chief executive officers, the managers as well as the workers must sign onto a national programme of material restraint and that all South Africans must take the bitter medicine of living within our means.” 

National Freedom Party’s MP Nhlanhla Khubisa said his party found solace in “the knowledge that Ambrosini  was really one of our own … a freedom fighter, constitutional and international law expert … a human rights activist”. 

He said he learned from Oriani-Ambrosini that “you do not sleep if you have not completed your assignment”. It was the ANC’s tribute by Deputy Minister of the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development John Jeffrey that elicited most reaction from listening MPs. 

“He faced death bravely and decided to end his suffering at a time when he felt ready … I think in this context we also as a nation need to debate whether to legislate on the use of euthanasia in the context of terminal illness.” 

MPs were heard saying: “yes, yes”. 

‘Wonderful man’
Oriani-Ambrosini is survived by his wife and seven-year-old son. Buthelezi said: “Those of us who were blessed with his friendship will find ways to bless his son, Luke ... Let us tell Luke what a wonderful man his father was.. Your father was South Africa’s greatest adopted son …  our warrior and friend.” – Additional reporting by Sapa

Victoria John

Victoria John

Victoria studied journalism, specialising in photojournalism, at Rhodes University from 2004 to 2007. After traveling around the US and a brief stint in the UK she did a year's internship at The Independent on Saturday in Durban. She then worked as a reporter for the South African Press Association for a year before joining the Mail & Guardian as an education reporter in August 2011. Read more from Victoria John

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