Italy’s first black cabinet minister Cécile Kyenge has been likened to a prostitute in the latest personal attack directed at her by a public figure.
Cristiano Za Garibaldi, the deputy mayor of the town of Diano Marina in the northern region of Liguria, implied in a post on his public Facebook profile that Ms Kyenge frequented a road in the area infamous for being used by prostitutes, many of whom are black.
Local media outlets picked up on the comments, and Mr Za Garibaldi was quick to back-pedal and apologise, putting the insult down to “a stressful couple of months” in which he was struggling to pay his taxes.
In a post on Sunday he wrote: “I was wrong, I admit it and apologise. The statement… against the Minister Kyenge was in bad taste and offensive.”
Yet far from keeping his head down in the media spotlight that followed, Mr Za Garibaldi was back on Facebook on Monday, posting a series of statistics about immigration in Italy and writing that “it has become a social and economic problem”.
Ms Kyenge, 48, was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo but moved to Italy 30 years ago. She became the country’s first black cabinet member in April when she was appointed as Immigration Minister by Prime Minister Enrico Letta.
She has been no stranger to very insulting, and very public, comments since then, but she has remained stoic in attributing such attitudes to conservative groups struggling to come to terms with 20 years of immigration and an increasingly multicultural society, rather than taking personal offence.
The latest comments came as a reaction to her suggesting a policy whereby second homes could be rented out to homeless people.
In July, a member of the public threw a banana at her while she was speaking at a political rally in central Italy. That same month, right-wing Northern League leader and Senator Roberto Calderoli compared Ms Kyenge to an orangutan.
And in June, a female politician was forced to resign for suggesting on Facebook that someone should rape Kyenge so she “can understand what victims of atrocious crimes feel”.
While one of Italy’s leading dailies, La Repubblica, commented that it felt like attacking Ms Kyenge had become “a national sport”, the Minister herself was quoted by the Guardian as saying: “This is the umpteenth episode in a constant attack that is not only targeted at me, but anyone in this country who dares to think differently.”