Cape Town - 131120 - Mario Gaspare R. Oriani-Ambrosini is an Italian-American constitutional lawyer and politician, and is currently a Member of Parliament in South Africa with the Inkatha Freedom Party. He speaks to the Cape Argus newspaper, from his home in Hout Bay, about politics and his battle with cancer. Reporter: Marianne Merten Picture: David Ritchie

Cape Town - The late IFP MP Mario Oriani-Ambrosini died at a time he felt ready, he said in a message to family and close friends before killing himself.

“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.”

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

On Tuesday, he confirmed Oriani-Ambrosini had ended his life early on Saturday after a more than 16-month battle with cancer, but he declined to say exactly how Oriani-Ambrosini had died. 

Buthelezi spoke out, with the agreement of Oriani-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. Later the IFP leader hosted a family gathering in one of Parliament’s dining rooms. On Wednesday, the IFP has organised a lunch-time memorial.

Speaking to the Cape Argus 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 Oriani-Ambrosini from his days in the KwaZulu-Natal legislature, said Oriani-Ambrosini had fought a tenacious battle against cancer and South Africa as a nation would have to debate euthanasia.

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

“He never did anything in half measures or small steps,” the deputy minister said, describing Oriani-Ambrosini as “straight-talking, sometimes controversial, always passionate in what he believed in”.

Amid the tributes were plenty of anecdotes of Oriani-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 and his tie matched the pocket-chief long before this became fashionable.

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

The Italian-born IFP MP was described as warrior, a brilliant mind, a courageous fighter and an old-style gentleman.

Oriani-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.

 At the end of the last Parliament, Oriani-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 he was using dagga as part of an alternative treatment for his lung cancer.

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

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

Did he succeed? Many of those families who have 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.”

Cape Argus