Tuesday 18th Jan 2022

Discorso al Gala Dinner dell’Italy/South Africa Summit, European House Ambrosetti, il 18 ottobre al Club Italiano di Johannesburg.-


Maurizio Mariano -


I stand here before you as a proud South African of Italian origin. On close examination of my blood the results read as follows: born in Johannesburg, paternal and maternal roots in Fallo and Villa Santa Maria, Province of Chieti, Abruzzo, Italy. Strains of Parmigiano Reggiano and Balsamic Vinegar – Medici Ermete are identifiable, because of my love for the City of Reggio Emilia.  

We extend a very proud welcome to you from the Italian Club of Johannesburg, the cultural, sporting, educational and social hub of the Italian community in Ekurhuleni, Gauteng.

This facility is the brainchild of a humble doctor from Forlì, Emilia Romagna, which may appear to be a coincidence, but when we consider the historic facts, we see a pattern of collaboration, solidarity and alignment of purpose between Italians and South Africans for the benefit of the community at large.         


In 1948, the founder of this club, Dr Ugo Giunchi, and the members of the committee approached a group of Italian Immigrants who had recently arrived in South Africa, to each contribute a small amount of their weekly wages to purchase a farm where they had the vision to build a community centre and a home away from home. Today, 68 years later, housing a club house, an old age home, various sports facilities, a pre-school and a school, this very property hosts this evening’s distinguished guests.

Equally, with vision, conviction and purpose, in 1970, Giuseppe and Bruna Soncini embraced the young Anthony Mongalo when he arrived in Italy as the ANC Chief Representative, having fled Apartheid South Africa and its authorities. The fruits of this alignment and collaboration between the ANC and Reggio Emilia includes the signing of the Twinning Agreement in 1977 by the former President of the ANC, Oliver Tambo and the then Mayor of Reggio Emilia, Ugo Benassi. Further, in 1977 Giuseppe Soncini coordinated and further formalised this solidarity through the Committee for Friendship, Cooperation and Solidarity among Peoples.  Significant aid was extended to the ANC and today, 39 years later, this collaboration with the city of Reggio Emilia continues.

On the 24th of November 2015, in the presence of Premier David Makhura, Mrs Bruna Soncini, Anthony Mongalo, the Mayor of Ekurhuleni, Mondli Gungubele and the Italian Consul General in Johannesburg, Marco Petacco, the Wattville Library was renamed the “Giuseppe and Bruna Soncini Library”. 

Today, we have witnessed the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the Gauteng Province and the Region of Emilia Romagna and the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the City of Reggio Emilia and the Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality.           

Former President Nelson Mandela said that “after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more to climb”.

It has been a year since our last meeting in Cape Town. An anniversary such as this one inspires us to reflect on time that has passed and to reflect on how we tackled the hills that we chose to climb. It is also a time where we plan for the year ahead, selecting new hills to climb, and conquer.  And … as we move from hill to hill, we look back on the road that we have travelled and look forward to new destinations with a determined dream of a better tomorrow.

This same dynamic applies to the way in which we reflect on our history and our inheritance - in effect, each moment is a reflection of our past and our vision of the future. While we may be tempted to picture the scenario of climbing hills as an independent endeavour, the reality is that such actions are not isolated and often require a community of some form who share and contribute to the journey.  We share our path with our companions - compatriots and comrades from the present and the past.

South Africa and Italy have a long history of collaboration. Each has a rich individual history and an important legacy. A legacy bequeathed by those who made important and often supreme sacrifices in the quest for redress and a better future.

There is a wonderful history to be told of individuals who in business, politics, art and culture made a difference …Italians who made South Africa their home and South Africans who made Italy theirs. Not in a way that denied their roots but in a way that embraced the other country and recognised common opportunities, common challenges and a common vision for the future not only their own but that of a better society and a better world.

·         The basis for SA’s modern seafood industry was laid by several Sicilian and Calabrian families who arrived in 1880 bringing centuries old knowledge of fishing methodologies;

·         An Italian from Piedmont discovered the Sterkfontein caves, today the cradle of mankind;

·         A Geologist from Genoa was instrumental in developing  South Africa’s mining industry by recognising the value of manganese ore deposits;

·         130 Italians came to South Africa in the late 1880’s to build the Simonstown harbour and naval base;

·         South Africa’s pioneering radar system was developed by an Italian electrical engineer in the 1930’s;

·         Sappi, a global paper and pulp company with a strong South African heritage was built based on the ingenuity of an Italian’s  process to make paper;

·         The larger part of South Africa’s railways were engineered and configured by Italians in the 1940’s and so were many of the cylinder tunnels constructed at the time;

·         Most of the power lines in South Africa were constructed by Italians in the 1950’s,   

I can carry on as this is a topic dear to my heart – and we could in fact spar endlessly about Italians making contributions to economies outside Italy all over the world, and then as a proud son of parents from Abruzzo, we can then also discuss how many of these are Abruzzesi…but that is a delightful topic for another occasion…!

Much of this success and collaboration resides in history and the recent past – today we have convened at the special instance and through the tireless initiatives of the European House Ambrosetti to create new partnerships and opportunities. Supported by, inter alia, the Gauteng Government, the Government of Emilia Romagna, the Government of Lombardia, and the City of Reggio Emilia, we can share our thoughts and vision so that as we walk our path and climb the great hills that lie before us, in this volatile world at a time of unprecedented questioning and change, we lay the foundations for future collaboration and cooperation between Italy and South Africa, with the underling objective of leaving legacies of which we as individuals and as a collective, can be proud.   

Comments powered by CComment