The first Dante Alighieri Society was founded in Bologna in 1889 by the poet Giosuè Carducci, with the duel objectives of promoting and spreading the Italian language and culture abroad, and helping the numerous Italian communities living in faraway lands to maintain cultural links with their country of origin and pass on their language and traditions to future generations.
Carducci in fact wrote that the primary role of the Society was to defend “our heritage and our hopes for the future: preserving our language and our Italian nationality.”
Today the “mother house” of the Dante Alighieri Society is based in Rome and all homonymous societies, disseminated in every continent, are linked to it.
The Society takes its name from Dante Alighieri the great Italian 13th Century poet, born in Florence, and the revered author of the world-renowned Divine Comedy. Such is his fame that he is known all the world-over simply as “Dante”.
The Divine Comedy was the first significant literary work to be written in Italian, a relatively new language at a time when most learned texts were still being written in Latin. He used the Florentine vernacular to depict the full spectrum of human vices and virtues, touching on every aspect of life from the everyday to the pinnacles of the sublime. In effect he took the first step towards uniting Italy linguistically and thus became known as the “Father of the Italian Language”.
Two-fold likewise is the mission of the Johannesburg Dante Alighieri Society: promote Italian language and culture within South Africa and facilitate for people of Italian origin the preservation of their ancestral identity, language, cultural practices and values, as an enriching heritage to treasure for themselves and their offspring.
The Johannesburg chapter of the Dante Alighieri Society was started by the Tuscan-born Luigi Fatti (1866-1940), who had immigrated to South Africa in 1898. Here he opened a retail food store and later branched out into other entrepreneurial activities. In 1920 he created a space where the children of his Italian employees could come and learn the language. Subsequently he extended this facility to adult immigrants as well so that they could keep alive, besides their language, their culture, their values and the traditions that made them feels connected to their homeland.
Then on the 18 October 1927 he founded the Dante Alighieri Society.
The Dante Alighieri Society operates partly with funds from the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and under the auspices of the Consulate General of Italy in Johannesburg; the rest of its finances derive from course fees, membership fees, proceeds from cultural events, donations and sponsors .
The Society is administered by a committee, which is elected biennially by the Assembly of Members. The executive committee, comprising a varying number of members, then elects a President, Vice-president, Secretary and Treasurer.
Under the directives of the Committee, all administrative, organisational and public relations functions, management of the teaching staff and other personnel is carried out by two part-time administrative assistants.