A blind­ing in­tel­lect; a wor­thy op­po­nent

CityPress - - News - MARYNA LAMPRECHT news@city­press.co.za

Inkatha Free­dom Party (IFP) MP Mario Am­brosini (53) died at his home in Hout Bay, Cape Town, early yes­ter­day morn­ing – be­fore his bat­tle for le­gal­is­ing the med­i­cal use of dagga in South Africa was com­pleted. Am­brosini, who was di­ag­nosed with phase 4 lung can­cer in April last year, con­tro­ver­sially burst on to the South African po­lit­i­cal scene in 1991 as IFP leader Man­go­suthu Buthelezi’s con­sti­tu­tional ex­pert dur­ing pre­democ­racy ne­go­ti­a­tions.

He was re­sented by ANC and the Na­tional Party ne­go­tia­tors be­cause he was seen as the ar­chi­tect of the IFP’s of­ten ob­struc­tion­ist po­si­tions and strate­gies.

In Fe­bru­ary, he shocked the Na­tional Assem­bly into si­lence when he ad­dressed a plea to Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma to le­galise the use of med­i­cal dagga.

Af­ter doc­tors gave him only weeks to live, he was con­vinced it was this un­usual treat­ment that en­abled him to re­main alive for longer than a year.

“Every­one who knew Mario knows he has chal­lenged bound­aries all his life, but al­ways with a greater goal. This is what made him the re­mark­able fighter that he was,” his fam­ily said in a state­ment yes­ter­day.

Am­brosini, whose fa­ther was a pro­fes­sor of con­sti­tu­tional law, was raised in Italy but lived in South Africa for 23 years.

He stud­ied law in Rome and later con­tin­ued his stud­ies at Har­vard Univer­sity.

Af­ter ar­riv­ing in the coun­try in 1991, he and Buthelezi de­vel­oped a close friend­ship. Af­ter the 1994 elec­tions, he fol­lowed Buthelezi into the home af­fairs de­part­ment as an ad­viser.

This earned the ire of Buthelezi’s ANC Cabi­net col­leagues, who were un­com­fort­able with a for­eigner be­ing re­spon­si­ble for craft­ing im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy. In 2009, he be­came an IFP MP.

An ema­ci­ated and weak Am­brosini stood up from his wheel­chair in May to take his par­lia­men­tary oath, and last month, con­nected to a ven­ti­la­tor, made his last speech in Par­lia­ment.

Koos van der Merwe, for­mer IFP chief whip, said he would re­mem­ber Am­brosini for his con­sci­en­tious­ness and “bril­liant mind”.

“As an Amer­i­can-trained lawyer, he adapted very well to the South African le­gal sys­tem. He ex­celled es­pe­cially with his thor­ough re­search. He had an ex­tremely good mem­ory.”

In Fe­bru­ary, af­ter his plea to Zuma, Am­brosini tabled a bill on med­i­cal in­no­va­tion in Par­lia­ment.

Van der Merwe said he did not be­lieve Am­brosini’s death would be the end of the strug­gle to le­galise dagga for medic­i­nal use.

“I’m sure the bat­tle will be pur­sued by the IFP and by his fam­ily. He in­ves­ti­gated and used ev­ery pos­si­ble so­lu­tion – and that’s why he lasted so long.”

For­mer DA leader Tony Leon said Am­brosini was “one of life’s most orig­i­nal peo­ple”. “He was an ex­traor­di­nar­ily in­tel­li­gent man,” Leon said. The ANC said Am­brosini would be re­mem­bered for his brav­ery and de­ter­mi­na­tion.

“Since be­ing di­ag­nosed with can­cer al­most two years ago, Dr Am­brosini was a de­ter­mined and brave fighter for peo­ple’s right to be in con­trol of their des­tiny and have the right to choose to use dagga for medic­i­nal rea­sons.”

The DA said he was a man of in­tegrity who will be re­mem­bered for the con­tri­bu­tion he made to the coun­try’s Con­sti­tu­tion and also in Par­lia­ment.

Joan­mariae Fubbs, the chair­per­son of Par­lia­ment’s port­fo­lio com­mit­tee on trade and in­dus­try, said Am­brosini’s “fresh in­sight has con­trib­uted to more ro­bust leg­is­la­tion”.

“His ca­pac­ity to fo­cus on is­sues dif­fer­ently en­cour­aged the com­mit­tee to con­duct ef­fec­tive over­sight,” said Fubbs.

His fam­ily said they would re­mem­ber the MP “not only as a war­rior, but as a car­ing hus­band and a lov­ing fa­ther, com­pletely ded­i­cated to his son Luke”.

His son is seven. – Ad­di­tional re­port­ing by staff reporter

PHOTO: LEANNE STANDER

IN FULL FORCE Mario Am­brosini makes a point dur­ing a sit­ting of Par­lia­ment last year, be­fore lung can­cer left him weak and con­fined to a wheel­chair

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