IFP MP Mario Oriani-Ambrosini
IFP MP Mario Oriani-Ambrosini
Mangosuthu Buthelezi
Mangosuthu Buthelezi

Cape Town - “I am dying in peace and serenity surrounded by the love of my family and friends. I am dying at a time when I feel ready.”

This was part of a message the late IFP MP Mario Oriani-Ambrosini sent to his closest friends and family before killing himself.

IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi, a friend of Ambrosini’s for decades, said: “I weep for the loss of a son.”

He confirmed on Tuesday that the MP ended his life on Saturday after a more than 16-month battle with cancer, in what he said was “a characteristically clear-considered and enunciated decision”.

Buthelezi spoke out, with the agreement of Ambrosini’s family, during the tributes in the National Assembly where the late MP’s widow, Carin, and son, Luke, sat in the public gallery.

The IFP leader later hosted a family gathering in one of Parliament’s dining rooms. on Wednesday the IFP has organised a lunchtime memorial.

Speaking to Independent Newspapers afterwards, Carin Ambrosini declined to give details of what happened at 2.14am on Saturday.

“He chose to end a long, courageous battle and chose to put an end to it. He was true to himself and his own convictions and thinking,” she said.

Earlier, Deputy Justice Minister John Jeffery, who knew Ambrosini from his days in the KwaZulu-Natal legislature, said the latter fought a tenacious battle against cancer, and South Africa as a nation would have to debate euthanasia.

“He decided to end his suffering when he was ready. He, not death, was the decider.”

Paying tribute to the MP, a one-time adviser to Buthelezi during his term as home affairs minister and negotiator during South Africa’s transition to democracy, Jeffery said that while ANC members often did not see eye to eye with Ambrosini, he was nevertheless held in high regard for his knowledge of constitutional and governance matters.

Amid the tributes were anecdotes of Ambrosini’s life: from serving on the Speaker’s wine cellar committee, to being voted best dressed parliamentarian by a men’s magazine – he always sported a sharp three-piece suit with matching tie and handkerchief – and his wide range of reading material, having promised Jeffery a copy of Cicero’s speeches once he recovered.

African Christian Democratic Party MP Cheryllyn Dudley recalled how she teased him for being a typical Italian man.

“I am sorry I brushed aside your attempts to share your way too intellectual Bible knowledge with me. I hope and pray you made peace with your Maker.”

DA federal chairman Wilmot James recalled his emotional visit to Ambrosini’s mother and brother in Rome last month.

Ambrosini successfully took Parliament all the way to the Constitutional Court to change its rules so MPs could directly table proposed legislation. And he was involved in the court challenge against the refusal of a visa to the Dali Lama to attend Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu’s 80th birthday.

“The Honourable Dr Ambrosini acted for no financial gain, and certainly at tremendous financial loss. But he acted on principle. And, when it came to principle, Dr Ambrosini was a pit bull,” said Buthelezi in his tribute.

At the end of the last Parliament, Ambrosini tabled a draft Medical Innovation Bill to allow for alternative treatment of cancer. This followed his admission during February’s State of the Nation address that he was using dagga as part of an alternative treatment regime for his lung cancer, diagnosed in April last year.

Buthelezi said that when Ambrosini took his life there was no hope of a cure, remission or improvement.

While he did not choose the fight against cancer, he fought it to extend life beyond what doctors predicted and maintained clarity of mind to the end.

Did he succeed? Many of those families who had watched their loved ones suffer the ravages of conventional cancer treatment, unable to communicate or share quality time in the last days and weeks, would say “yes”, said Buthelezi.

“He was able to make his own decisions, consciously and fully cognisant of all the consequences. He was able to spend quality time with friends and loved ones. His memory remained exceptional and his thoughts and emotions remained at his own command.”

While Ambrosini’s death would no doubt continue to be spoken about, Buthelezi moved to honour his last wishes: “Let us tell Luke what a wonderful man his father was. Luke, your father was South Africa’s greatest adoptive son”.

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His deathbed message

The message Mario Oriani-Ambrosini sent to close friends shortly before his death, as read out by IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi:

“I am dying in peace and serenity surrounded by the love of my family and friends.

“I am dying at a time when I feel ready. I feel in the grace of God and part of His passion, and in that sense relieved and saved.

“My last thoughts are with my child, and I hope you may give him some of the love and guidance I would like him to receive. Thank you for your friendship and love which I feel with me at this time.”