Inkatha Freedom Party MP Mario Oriani-Ambrosini died on Saturday at the age of 53 after battling a rare form of inoperable lung cancer. His illness was first made public in May last year, which he described as a stage four lung cancer which, left untreated, “will cause me to be removed from all lists for Christmas functions or gifts”.
He survived the 2013 festive season and vowed to fight during the fifth Parliament for the use of alternative cancer therapies, including medical marijuana. Oriani-Ambrosini said he had rejected chemotherapy as a treatment option, as it would extend his life expectancy by only a few months and would cause severe side-effects. He had opted to pursue treatment based on “different science”.
In February, he introduced the Medical Innovation Bill to legalise the use of medical marijuana and pleaded to President Jacob Zuma to provide laws that gave doctors the power to prescribe alternative treatments. Three months later, a very frail Ambrosini lifted himself out of his wheelchair with the help of an ornate walking stick a year after announcing his diagnosis and read the oath of Parliament in his thick Italian accent. He leaves behind his wife Carin and son Luke William.
Oriani-Ambrosini was born in Rome, Italy, in 1960 to law professor Raffaele Oriani. When his father died at a young age, he was adopted by relatives.
He studied at the Georgetown University Law Center in the United States and worked with the Philadelphia Constitution Foundation and Human Rights Advocates International in negotiating, drafting and formulating constitutions.
In 1991, he first became involved in South African politics, working for IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi and the party. He was with the party at the opening of the Convention for a Democratic SA (Codesa) and drafted constitutional submissions on IFP’s behalf. He worked as Buthelezi’s advisor from 1994 to 2004.
Some of his achievements were assisting with the reformulation of the local immigration system, formulating the second constitution produced by the Constitutional Assembly and drafting Kwazulu-Natal’s constitution.
In 2004, he reopened his legal consultancy firm Ambrosini & Associates in the US.
Oriani-Ambrosini returned to South Africa and was made an MP in 2009.
Not one to stand still, he tried to introduce a bill in the National Assembly the same year but the National Assembly speaker refused him permission to introduce it because he had not followed the rules.
Oriani-Ambrosini challenged the constitutional validity of the rules in the Western Cape High Court. This was dismissed. He then applied to the Constitutional Court for leave to appeal the judgment. In 2012, the court concluded that those provisions of the rules which imposed, reinforced, or were inextricably linked to a permission requirement, were constitutionally invalid.
The draft National Credit Amendment Bill was formally adopted for discussion in the National Assembly last January. Oriani-Ambrosini had recommended amendments including extending to five years the period a consumer under debt review had to repay debt, and suspension of the accrual of interest on that debt for the same period.
In a statement on Saturday, his family said he had many battles in life but his battle with cancer was his toughest, one he fought courageously.
“Nonetheless, he continued to fight, not only for his own sake, but on behalf of the countless people who face this same battle.
“His contribution to the fight against cancer will be remembered forever with appreciation and his work will be continued through the Cancer Treatment Campaign, which he started early this year,” the family said.
Funeral arrangements would be announced in due course. SAPA