The Italian minister who described Africans as “slaves” sues the country’s first black minister

Matteo Salvini
Deputy Prime Minister of Italy and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini

Deputy Prime Minister of Italy and Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini who recently described African migrant workers as “slaves” has filed a defamation suit against the country’s first black cabinet minister of Congolese descent for calling his far-right party “racist” in 2014.

Cécile Kyenge will face trial in the northern city of Piacenza over comments made in an interview during a social democratic event when she reacted to a photograph posted on social media by Roberto Calderoli, a former senator of the far-right League party depicting her as an orangutan.

Cécile Kyenge
Cécile Kyenge

The ridiculous lawsuit follows her 2017 victory in a four-year legal battle against an Italian member of the European Parliament, Mario Borghezio who was found guilty of defamation and racial hatred during a radio interview in 2013.

Borghezio said in the interview that Kyenge was trying to “impose her tribal traditions from the Congo” on Italian society; “she took away a job from an Italian doctor”; and she is “a good housewife but not a government minister.”

Cécile Kyenge became Italy’s first Black cabinet minister under Prime Minister Enrico Letta’s short-lived government in 2013. She immediately became the target of sustained racist attacks as she received death threats on social media, had banana thrown at her in public and was compared to an orangutan.

Five years after leaving government, Matteo Salvini is continuing the attacks on Kyenge who posted her displeasure on social media together with examples of headlines generated by the party over the years, including one dating back to 2009 when Salvini called for racial segregation on Milan’s public transport system, cites the Guardian.

This is the second and successful suit filed by Salvini after the judge ruled that her comments not only stained the party but insulted all its members, the Guardian adds.

“Now that he is a minister he is more powerful,” Kyenge told the Guardian, adding that, “I said publicly several times that the League must distance itself from racism and condemn and penalise it.

“They not only never did this but people convicted of racist acts are still in positions of authority. If the League doesn’t distance itself it must mean that the party shares the [racist] views,” she said.

Born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kyenge moved to Italy in 1983, training as an ophthalmologist and later venturing into politics in order to advocate for the rights of migrants and minority groups.

Salvini has continued his attacks on African migrants as he described them as “slaves” during a closed-door session of a migration and security conference hosted by Austria.

“I’m paid by citizens to help our young people start having children again the way they did a few years ago, and not to uproot the best of the African youth to replace Europeans who are not having children anymore,” he said.

The Italian far-right leader added: “Maybe in Luxembourg there’s this need, in Italy there’s the need to help our kids have kids, not to have new slaves to replace the children we’re not having.”

Salvini, who heads the Italian League party that holds a tough stance against immigration, made the racist remark in response to a public statement implying that Italy needed immigrants because the population was ageing.

Matteo Salvini
Deputy Prime Minister of Italy and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini

The only reaction from the conference was a condemnation by Luxembourg’s foreign and immigration minister Jean Asselborn who interrupted the Italian by saying in French, “In Luxembourg, we had tens of Italian immigrants. They came as migrants, who worked in Luxembourg so that you could in Italy have money to pay for your children.”

The African Union later issued a statement condemning Salvini and demanding a retraction from him.

An unrepentant Salvini replied at a press conference: “There is nothing to apologise for. I deny [making] any equation between immigrants and slaves. On the contrary, my statements in Vienna were to defend migrants, who some want to use as slaves. If some people want to think badly [that’s up to them]. Perhaps there was a mistake in the French translation.”