“The passing of Nelson Mandela has aroused deep emotion in the Italian people,” Letta said in an open letter to Jacob Zuma, South Africa’s current president.
“To you, Mr President, and to our friend the South African nation, I extend the expression of my deepest participation in a pain that we all feel in our hearts and the assurance that Italy will not forget the lesson that Nelson Mandela has taught us,” he said.
Letta said Mandela, whose death was announced by Zuma on Thursday night, was “an example of generous commitment to rights and regional integration”.
“It is these values that the Italian government aspires to and intends to pursue with strength and determination, so that our country and our Europe can draw from the example of the long battle and conduct of Madiba,” said Letta, using Mandela’s clan name.
At the South African embassy in Rome, staff on Friday morning were lowering the country’s flag to half mast. Embassy staff told The Local that they had not yet decided on remembrance services or other events to mark Mandela’s death.
Leader of the anti-apartheid movement, Mandela was released in 1990 after 27 years in prison. He went on to become South Africa’s first black president in 1994, the year after he was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize with the then President FW De Klerk.
Mandela visited Italy during his presidency in 1998, meeting with Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, and other politicians.