The city of Reggio Emilia in Italy may not be as well known to South Africans as Rome, Milan or Venice, but its claim to fame is as the birthplace of the Italian flag – the famous red, white and green tricolour – and of the renowned Reggio Emilia Approach, an educational philosophy focused on preschool and primary education that values the expressiveness and creativity of each child. At least, that was the case until the South African Ambassador to Italy, Shirish Soni, arrived in Italy and, through his hyperactive social media postings, profiled the city’s historical connection with South African liberation icon Albertina Sisulu.
For Ambassador Soni, the city’s solidarity and support for the South African liberation movement was far too important not to be celebrated through the arts. Spurred on by Ambassador Soni and Serena Foracchia, the Deputy Mayor for International Affairs of the City of Reggio Emilia, a delegation of arts producers from the city’s Mamino Theatre found their way to Johannesburg. Their journey brought them to the Hillbrow Theatre, Windybrow Theatre and the Market Theatre Laboratory to commence discussions about a collaborative production that will celebrate the city’s historical solidarity with South Africa’s liberation struggle.
Reggio Emilia was actively involved in the promotion of the anti-apartheid movement abroad and went on to sign a solidarity pact with the African National Congress (ANC) in 1977. Oliver Tambo, then President of the ANC, addressed delegates in the Municipal Theatre of Reggio Emilia. Tambo and other guests were also welcomed in Rome by the then-president of Italy, Alessandro Pertini, and Pope John Paul II. In 1987, the city conferred honorary citizenship to Albertina Sisulu.
This year marks the centenary of Albertina Sisulu’s birth. An excellent turnout of political and cultural activists gathered at the Market Theatre on Monday 22 October 2018, a day after the late icon’s 100th birthday, to celebrate her legacy under the theme ‘Celebrating 100 years of Albertina Sisulu, A woman of fortitude’.
A celebrated author, Magona was in attendance at the Market Theatre to launch her abridged version of the biography about the struggle hero. Her book, Albertina Sisulu: Abridged Memoir, was inspired by Elinor Sisulu’s Walter and Albertina Sisulu: In Our Lifetime.
Albertina Sisulu, revered by South Africans as the true mother of the nation, was a survivor of the golden age of the ANC. Her life with the second most important figure in the ANC, Walter Sisulu, exemplified the underpinning role of women in the struggle against apartheid.
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