Address by the Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, the Hon JH Jeffery, MP, at a fundraising dinner “La Grande Cena di Boorea” (the Grand Dinner of Boorea), held at the Salone delle Feste, Via Fazzano, Correggio, Italy, 29 November 2017
Mr Giammaria Manghi, President of the Province
Ms Ilenia Malavasi, Mayor of Correggio
Mr Luca Vecchi, Mayor of Reggio Emilia
Members of Parliament
Regional councilors and councilors of Reggio Emilia
The President of Legacoop
The President of Boorea
Presidents and co-operatives of Reggio Emilia
Ladies and gentlemen,
Buona sera e grazie – good evening and thank you for the honour to be a guest at this annual event which I believe is a highlight of the region.
I am told that the Great Dinner is dedicated to the memory of volunteers Alberto Rossi, Velmore Davoli and Enrico Giusti.
I am honoured to be here, in the birthplace of Antonio Allegri da Correggio whom I consider to be one of the greatest painters of the Italian Renaissance.
I am also honoured to be here, not too far from Campegine, the birthplace of the seven Fratelli Cervi - the seven Cervi Brothers.
The Cervi Brothers are described as “upright men with deep democratic convictions, took an active part in the Italian Resistance by paying with their lives for their fidelity to the ideals of freedom and social justice that had been transmitted to them from childhood by their father.” Taken prisoner, all seven were shot by the fascists on December 28, 1943.
All countries need upright men and women with deep democratic convictions, who dedicate their lives to ideals of freedom and social justice.
For us, in South Africa, such a man was Oliver Reginald Tambo.
He was one of the greatest freedom fighters in the history of our country – a man who dedicated his life to freeing our country from apartheid.
It is because of the contribution of Tambo, Luthuli, Mandela, Sisulu and so many others that we can today say that we are free, united in our diversity and can live a country underpinned by the constitutional values of freedom, human dignity and equality.
Our government has declared 2017 the “Year of Oliver Reginald Tambo: Unity in Action Together Moving South Africa Forward.”
This year is important because we commemorate the centenary of OR Tambo’s birth and we celebrate the life of a remarkable human being, consummate freedom fighter and an outstanding leader of our people.
OR Tambo was the longest serving President of the African National Congress. What is seldom mentioned is that this year also marks 50 years since Tambo assumed the reigns of leadership in the ANC. He took over after the passing of Chief Albert Luthuli in July 1967.
Born on October 27, 1917, in Mbizana District of Eastern Cape, he studied at the Anglican Boarding School, near Flagstaff, and later at St. Peter's Secondary School in Johannesburg where he set academic records, completing his matriculation with a first class pass in 1938.
OR Tambo initially wanted to study medicine, but at the time, no tertiary medical school accepted Black students in that field. Awarded a scholarship, he studied at Fort Hare College, graduating with a B.Sc. degree in 1941. He remained at Fort Hare to qualify for a Diploma in Education but was expelled in 1942 for his involvement in a student strike. He returned to Johannesburg and taught science and mathematics at St. Peter's from 1943 to 1947.
He began studying law in 1948. In 1951, Tambo qualified as an attorney. Nelson Mandela, who was by now also a qualified lawyer, had previously approached him to join in a partnership. They set up offices in Chancellor House, Johannesburg, as the legal firm of Mandela and Tambo.
Tambo selflessly dedicated his life to the liberation of the people of South Africa regardless of colour, creed or partisan political affiliation.
He was the glue that held the various strands of the national democratic revolution together for almost thirty years. It was because of his erudite leadership that he brought back the ANC intact after decades of exile.
We celebrate Tambo’s memory today because he remains one of the most outstanding leaders that our country has ever produced. The purpose of celebrating exceptional leaders like Tambo is to inspire our future growth as a nation.
We are often reminded of Oliver Tambo’s words, when he said: "We have a vision of South Africa in which black and white shall live and work together as equals in conditions of peace and prosperity."
In April 1993 he passed on, so close to seeing his dream come to fruition, to see South Africans voting together to usher in democracy a few months later in April 1994. At his funeral in 1993, a distraught President Nelson Mandela said –
“Oliver Tambo has not died because the ideals of freedom, human dignity and a colour-blind respect for every individual cannot perish”.
One of the historical relationships that Tambo initiated and sustained was with Reggio Emilia, which played a material role in supporting the ANC during the apartheid struggle.
Reggio Emilia has a history against the struggle from colonialism and racism. The relationship is an exemplary story of friendship, and in particular a friendship between OR Tambo and Guiseppe Soncini.
Reggio Emilia and the resistance movement in South Africa have enjoyed a long and significant relationship. In the 1970s, Reggio Emilia was actively involved in the promotion of the anti-apartheid movement abroad and the support of struggle exiles like Oliver Tambo.
The city also signed a solidarity pact with the African National Congress in 1977.
In 1978 Reggio Emilia hosted the National Conference of Solidarity for the Independence and Sovereignty of the Peoples of Southern Africa against Colonialism, Racism and Apartheid.
In 1978 the Municipality of Reggio Emilia also published Sechaba, the official newsletter of the ANC, in Italian, and also published the first Italian edition of The Struggle is My Life, a collection of Nelson Mandela’s speeches and political writings in 1982.
On the occasion of the second national consultative conference of the ANC, held in Zambia in 1985, the city of Reggio Emilia was declared “a constituted strength against the regime of apartheid”, the only European city mentioned.
From 1985 to 1991, Oliver Tambo corresponded with various Reggio Emilia officials, particularly with Giuseppe Soncini regarding the granting of honorary citizenship of the city in 1987 to Albertina Sisulu and Albert Luthuli.
In acknowledging the great contribution that Reggio Emilia had made towards the struggle against apartheid, Tambo wrote:
“We always carry Reggio Emilia in our hearts; when we speak of Italy we cannot but think of Reggio Emilia. We are linked with profound attachment and immense gratitude that is hard to put into words.”
Giuseppe Soncini has also posthumously been awarded South African national orders - The Order of the Companions of O.R. Tambo in Bronze. He was the driving force behind the initiative of the Pact of Solidarity between the town of Reggio Emilia in Italy and the ANC.
He also formed a formidable friendship with Tambo that served and solidified an intercultural exchange between South Africa and Italy at a time where South Africa liberation fighters were in dire of help to fight apartheid.
Soncini’s work with the liberation movement made him a true ambassador of oppressed people. He had a strong determination to bury apartheid and create a democratic South Africa that belonged to all who live in it, and this earned him the respect of many people all over the world.
The history forged by Soncini between Italy and South Africa did not end with the end of apartheid but continues till today.
In 2004, a twinning agreement between Reggio Emilia and Polokwane was signed.
In June 2013, Reggio Emilia celebrated Tambo with the creation of Oliver Tambo Park.
Ladies and gentlemen,
2017 marks the 40th anniversary of the Pact of Solidarity signed by Tambo and the then mayor of Reggio Emilia, Ugo Benassi.
Let us celebrate the lives of those people – those from South Africa and those from Italy – who made the Pact of Solidarity possible.
Let us celebrate the life of OR Tambo and let us celebrate the friendship between our two great countries.