Cape Town - Mario Ambrosini, the IFP MP who won admiration for his gutsy response to a diagnosis of terminal lung cancer, died early on Sunday, months after being sworn in for another term.
His family said though he had fought many battles in his life, “this was no doubt his toughest”.
Ambrosini stunned Parliament last year when he announced his condition, saying he would shun conventional chemotherapy treatment for his stage-four cancer and test alternative methods, including the use of baking soda.
He would not “speak or vouch” for the treatment but said his death or survival would do so.
Returning to Parliament after a long absence last October, a drawn and visibly weakened Ambrosini was met with applause as he rose to make a passionate plea for the use of alternative medicines, including medical marijuana, to be legalised.
He later introduced a private member’s bill to this effect, a right he had won through a protracted legal battle that went to the Constitutional Court.
This resulted in a change to the rules governing the introduction by ordinary MPs of legislation initiated by them – lifting the requirement that they first get the permission of the National Assembly.
He was also a vocal and passionate campaigner against the controversial Protection of State Information Bill.
In 2011, he introduced 123 amendments to the bill in a filibuster that stopped it being passed at the time.
“In all democracy there comes a time when Parliament does not represent the people, at which point, in established democracies, it becomes the duty of members of Parliament with a conscience to delay the process to afford an opportunity to their colleagues to come to their senses and change their minds,” he wrote at the time.
When ANC MPs used their majority to push through the bill again last year – having changed only a few grammatical errors after it was sent back to them by President Jacob Zuma –Ambrosini lambasted the “ANC encyclopedias of moronica”.
“It’s a monument to the incompetence of this Parliament.
“This is the only bill that has actually been followed by civil society,” he was reported as saying.
“The president gave us an opportunity to come together and find one another and they went about correcting grammar. It’s absurd.”
Highly regarded among his peers for the depth of his legal knowledge, Ambrosini was an adviser to IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi during constitutional negotiations.
He was also regarded as a controversial figure by some.
In 2001 the ANC labelled him “divisive” and accused him of masterminding a leaked IFP secession strategy, according to a Mail & Guardian report at the time.
It quoted Blade Nzimande as saying the ANC was “very concerned” about Ambrosini’s “role in this country and the kind of documents he is authoring... (which are) aimed at perpetuating conflict between the ANC and IFP”.
“Forced to leave the World Trade Centre after a special rule – apparently aimed at Ambrosini – barred foreigners from the constitutional negotiations, he continued in his post as constitutional adviser to hardline IFP negotiator Walter Felgate,” continued the article.
His family said on Sunday it was “with deep sadness” that they announced his death.
“We wish to thank everyone who offered such tremendous support over the past 19 months. The love and warmth shown to him and to us from so many friends has been deeply appreciated.”
He had spent his life “pushing the limits, but always for the greater good”.
“This is what made him the remarkable warrior that he was.
“He will be remembered though not only as a warrior, but as a caring husband and a loving father, completely dedicated to his son, Luke.”
Buthelezi was at a family function on Sunday afternoon and was unable to comment by the time of going to print.
The office of ANC chief whip Stone Sizani said Ambrosini had been a respected MP and “ardent constitutionalist”.
“He was a fierce and outspoken debater, a seasoned negotiator, a principled legislator and a passionate politician.
“We will miss the vibrant contributions he made to our parliamentary debates and national political discourse in general.”
DA federal chairman Wilmot James said Ambrosini had been “a fighter for human rights and democracy, a person of integrity who understood and advanced our cause, and a powerful friend”.
“I saw Mario this past Tuesday. He was very ill, but he was courageous enough to leave his friends with tasks in his unfinished agenda.”
“We will honour his legacy by continuing on this journey.”