Madame President, Excellencies
First of all, I would like to thank you for convening this special meeting to commemorate the life and memory of late South African President, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.
Italy aligns itself to the statement made by the EU and to the many eloquent words that have already been spoken about Tata Madiba, as South Africans used to call him, and in a national capacity we will limit ourselves to a couple of remarks on his character and on his legacy.
What was most striking about Mandela – in addition to his charisma, his magnanimity, his extraordinary empathy, and his mettle in the fight against apartheid – was his ability to search patiently for useful compromises without ever renouncing his values; to choose the best and most pragmatic solution and even, if necessary, to impose it; to understand fully his political adversaries in order to better negotiate with them; and to modify the tactics of his action without losing sight of the strategic goal.
Mandela’s choices and his actions – ranging from the forgiveness policy, to the unforgettable gestures of reconciliation toward his own tormentors and even up to his controversial, but appreciated, decision to stride onto the field of Ellis Park stadium wearing a Springbok jersey with Francois Pienaar’s number on the back – all these actions were deep political choices reinforced by his moral stature and his awareness that he held in his hand the Country’s destiny.
Following the ban on the African National Congress (ANC), Italy was one of the Countries that in 1978, forged official relations with ANC, also in conjunction with the General Assembly’s proclamation of the “International Anti-Apartheid Year”.
You know, there was a special relation between Mandela and the city of Reggio Emilia, the city of the parmesan that you all may know, the city which in 1977 signed a solidarity pact with the ANC and during the International Year against Apartheid hosted, among others, Oliver Tambo, the then president of the ANC, Sam Nujoma and the president of Swapo of Namibia, who were later welcomed to Rome by the President of the Italian Republic, Sandro Pertini.
In 1987 Reggio Emilia conferred honorary citizenship on Albertina Sisulu, one of the ANC’s representatives as well as the wife of Walter, Nelson Mandela’s comrade, and on Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the 1984 Nobel Peace Laureate. After the first democratic elections in South Africa on 27 April 1994, Reggio Emilia was the only city invited to the Presidential inauguration of Nelson Mandela.
The world has lost a true leader and a supreme example of human fortitude, perseverance, justice, tolerance and compassion. We should continue to be inspired by his lifelong example and his call to never cease working for a better and more just world. Italy stands committed to follow the path he enlighted towards development, equality and respect of human rights.