The South African Broadcasting Corporation aired live the memorial service of political activist and academic, Prof Rok Ajulu for 4 hours something that, evoked memories of the funeral of anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela.
Who is Rok Ajulu to have attracted prime viewing time for SABC viewers and the South African rainbow nation? What of importance transpired at the memorial service that got not only South Africa standing still, but should have got the rest of the continent rapt with attention? In the aftermath of Rok’s demise what is his legacy to the continent he lived, loved and imparted and shared knowledge on?
To understand Rok Ajulu, we have to travel back to East Africa and to be precise to the post-independence, liberal Africa where debate thrived whether the Julius Nyerere, Jomo Kenyatta, Kenneth Kaunda and Kwame Nkrumah among others, had lived to the expectations of the dreams of the newly independent nations and its citizenry.
Enter the 1950 Siaya Kenya born, Rok Ajulu. Born of a pre-independence anti colonialism activist father, Rok’s history is intertwined with the history of the newly independent nation in which as a nonconformist, he got expelled from the University of Nairobi in 1975. Those were the heady days when dismay with the direction Kenya was taking led to the expulsion of both him and his colleagues some of whom ended up in the University of Dar es Salaam courtesy of Mwalimu Nyerere whose politics Rok admired to his very end.
Prof Ajulu was a lecturer in Politics and Internal Relations at the National University of Lesotho (1980-1984), Leeds University in the UK (1990-1994), Rhodes University (1994-2003), University of the Witswatersrand from (2003-2007) and was a Research professor at the University of South Africa from (2008 to 2010).
Fast forward to Saturday January 7 Rok’s colleagues from all walks of life listened attentively as speaker after speaker spoke of his unrelenting pursuit of solutions to the problems and challenges facing Africa from an intellectual perspective and a keen insight that only an intellectual of Rok Ajulus mixed East African heritage and South African homage would produce.
Rok better known as Comrade Professor Rok Ajulu spent more time in Southern Africa between Lesotho and South Africa than he spent in his native Kenya in the last 40 years making friends and teaching thousands of undergraduate to supervising PhD students all who seemed to have something to say about the man who loved the finer things of life including Jazz and Ohangla music from his Luo roots on the shores of Lake Victoria.
In so doing ROK became an Internationalist whose life grew beyond the activism for democracy in Kenya which he fled in 1982 to avoid being a victim of the repression administered by the autocratic government of then President Daniel Arap Moi.
A thoughtful thinker and Pan Africanist whose leaning was leftist, Rok studied in Hungary and the United Kingdom before landing at the National University of Lesotho as a lecturer. It did not take long according to his former colleagues and friends before he was deeply immersed in the activism for anti-apartheid and freedom against apartheid leadership of South Africa ties which led to his running into trouble frequently.
At his memorial service at Wits University, ministers of the South African government listened pensively as Sipho Pityana a friend of Rok’s and advisor on Labour Relations excoriated the South African leadership for steering off the democratic high way and compromising on the very things that made South Africa to be a beacon of hope, have a moral code and be respected in the community of nations.
Pityana wondered whether with Rok’s death the rainbow nation would do some introspection and see where the nation went of course enough to vote in favour of a United Nations resolution that destroyed Libya and have folks like the Mayor of Johannesburg to believe every illegal immigrant is a criminal.
In a fiery speech that would have met with comrade Professor Rok Ajulus approval, Pityana castigated the loss of moral authority by South Africa that he called the betrayal of national values that makes the country have no right to call itself internationalist.
That the SABC aired for 4 hours the memorial service for Rok Ajulu, some said, was because he was married to the daughter of anti-apartheid freedom fighter Walter Sisulu, Lindiwe Sisulu with whom they had five children. That Lindiwe is the current Human Settlements Minister under the ANC government could have influenced the matter.
Rok, with his quick wit, could have settled the matter as he did with those who thought he was privileged because he married a Sisulu. According to his younger brother, Steve, Rok would quip whenever this subject came up, “it is Lindiwe Sisulu who is privileged she married the Ajulu. How many African Nations would be comfortable with a female minister whose husband is a foreigner from another African country
“He will be remembered for his compassion, dedication to his family, outspokenness, abiding love of knowledge and quick wit. He has inspired many a generation of students, and thinkers, and as such he will live on for generations to come,” family spokesman Stephen Ajulu said.
Thought leader who sought african solutions
Professor Rok Ajulu researched and wrote extensively about the political economy of Africa. His active involvement in student leadership and liberation movement followed him from the University of Nairobi, though to Lesotho, the United Kingdom and back into South Africa.
At the time of his death, Professor Ajulu was writing a book titled Kenya, the Making of an Authoritarian and Predatory State. According to news stories in the New Age of South Africa, for the past 30 years, he epitomized the emergence of a new African intellectual activist who used his sharp insights and knowledge to advance what became known as an African Renaissance or agenda. Now that Ajulu has succumbed to pancreatic cancer, what seemed certain now seems uncertain.
It is hard to come across academics and elites interested in finding cures to the ills that confront Africa.
Writer Sandile Mamela continues it is the kind of book that will resonate with South Africans in the light of the raging debate about state capture. Many will have met or were taught by Ajulu. But he was a renowned intellectual.
In fact, he was the kind of man you knew without knowing him. Like Biko or Jesus, you did not have to meet him. He was preceded by his reputation. For almost 40 years, he influenced and shaped African thinking and contributed to genuine liberation.
He inspired a generation of students and activists through his work.
He was a selfless insurgent intellectual who used his sharp insights, intellectual skills and passionate commitment to shape post-it dependence political thought. This made him more than just a mere academic.
As early as the 1980s brothers and friends studying at Roma – as the University of Lesotho was known – spoke highly about this caliber of the new African intelligentsia, bold, fearless, clear thinking and courageous and Ajulu was at the top of the list.
His name spread in Swaziland, Soweto, Netherlands and London and was familiar among those in exile or associated and working with underground structures.
He touched and infused young South Africans with his critical yet deep Pan Africanist views and thoughts. He studied at Roma where he went on to lecture from 1980 to 1984.
The man portrayed what it meant to be a true pan-Africanist.
He was known to be from Kenya. But he was a global African and worked in countries where his skills were needed. He was detribalized. He was cosmopolitan and western educated, yet rooted in Afrocentric wisdom, knowledge and perspectives.
In fact, he was a specialist in African politics and international relations. He left his own country to go to Lesotho and Swaziland and finally settled in South Africa where he taught at Rhodes and Wits universities for almost two decades, from 1994 to 2008.
He was a behind the scenes kind of strategist, not seeking the limelight. The struggle or his contribution and role were not about him.
But there is no doubt that his intellectual interventions inside and outside of class or lecture hall sobered and matured many South African students and activists.
The man was versed in Negritude, modernism, literature, philosophy and politics. He was wide ranging and reflective. He was an example that reminded us of long lost principles and values, selflessness, self-sacrifice and being a servant of all African people.
For him, the ideals of Kwame Nkrumah, Jomo Kenyatta, John Langalibalele Dube and other founding fathers of African self-determination were not a relic of the past. He still believed in the dream of African unity.
In a serious twist of irony, Ajulu was based in Gauteng in 2008 during the explosion of what the media called xenophobia. One shudders to think that such a man or people like him had to live in the shadow of death.
But he lived and survived, helping to shatter all the myths of African self-hate and racism at campuses like the previous whites-only universities such as Rhodes and Wits.
His presence inspired and emboldened African students there. The straight forward truth he spoke. Well, he may not have been a household name and never would have been. Intellectual activism and work is a lonely business that does not attract the limelight.
But, in his own way, he was the kind of man who made us understand that behind a strong beautiful insightful and articulate African woman there is a powerful African man.” He was not a patriarchal type.
Instead he loved his women and wife unconditionally, giving all the required support. With his help and support, she has risen to be a leader of integrity, highly educated and articulate.
He was not a celebrity. But he was celebrated in his own unique way. He was and will always be an outstanding teacher that as an African man, you don’t have to abuse women or be corrupt. He was a great man for his humble ways.
This is the kind of inspiration and source of self-knowledge and determination we need, especially among African men.
In Africa your good deeds form their own language and speak of your work. Ajulu works fly throughout the continent. Search for his students. How can a man so few knew be such a great figure? No doubt, he has written and delivered a myriad of scholarly papers and lectures. He is, indisputably, an insurgent intellectual and scholar. Our hearts go out to his wife, Lindiwe Sisulu and family
The African Union, Nepad and the African and South African parliaments among others all benefited from his intellectual contribution.
Professor Rok Ajulu will be laid to rest in Bondo, Siaya County, Kenya on Saturday 14th, 2017. His other works include Globalization and Emerging Trends in African states and Two Countries one Dream, the Challenges of Democratic States.
This article was compiled from News Features based on the SABC live feedand various sources including the New Age as well as insights from Professor Rok Ajulu’s writing.