Rok Ajulu: Ar­dent ac­tivist and scholar

CityPress - - Voices -

In Beau­ti­ful Feath­ers, the Nige­rian writer Cyprian Ek­wensi ap­peals to the Ibo proverb “How­ever fa­mous a man is out­side, if he is not re­spected in­side his own home, he is like a bird with beau­ti­ful feath­ers, won­der­ful on the out­side, but or­di­nary within” as a back­drop of his novel. The bi­b­li­cal ver­sion of the proverb is cap­tured in Luke 4:24 by none other than the Son of Man him­self when he ob­served that “no prophet is ac­cepted in his home­town”.

Now and then there are in­di­vid­u­als who seem to defy the odds and for those peo­ple this ten­dency does not ap­ply. Pro­fes­sor Rok Ajulu is one of them. Ever since the an­nounce­ment of the pass­ing of Ajulu, trib­utes have been pour­ing in thick and fast. The un­mis­tak­able theme run­ning through all of them is that Ajulu was not only a con­sum­mate scholar, but was per­haps most im­por­tantly an in­ter­na­tion­al­ist.

Per­haps the great­est hon­our came from Kenyan pres­i­dent Uhuru Keny­atta, in which he ob­serves: “I learnt of the death of Ajulu with dis­may and sad­ness. He was one of Kenya’s most dis­tin­guished and thought­ful aca­demics, and a true Pan-African … He was a pen­e­trat­ing and pro­lific scholar; his books and pa­pers ex­press­ing his dis­tinc­tive views in rig­or­ous and stylish prose … I am grate­ful for Ajulu’s life, rich in achieve­ments, in friend­ships, and in pro­duc­tive schol­ar­ship. I of­fer his fam­ily what con­so­la­tion I can, and I pray God will grant them the courage to bear their loss.”

There is no greater trib­ute that a per­son can get than that com­ing from their coun­try’s first ci­ti­zen.

In a fit­ting trib­ute, Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma ex­pressed sim­i­lar ap­pre­ci­a­tion of Ajulu’s con­tri­bu­tions as both an in­ter­na­tion­al­ist and an ac­tivist against in­jus­tice.

De­spite be­ing an in­ter­na­tion­al­ist in ori­en­ta­tion, he re­mained rooted in the source that gave him his first breath. It is per­haps fit­ting that his body will be in­terred among his peo­ple, to be in com­mu­nion, as it were, with his parents and an­ces­tors.

Ajulu is an em­bod­i­ment of an in­ter­na­tion­al­ist. He was driven to our shores by his pas­sion for jus­tice. It was in strug­gle that he shared with us his ide­al­ism and ap­petite and crav­ing for free­dom. Like all of us, Ajulu had a hu­man side to him.

Friends have re­galed us with sto­ries that speak to Ajulu’s hu­mourist and hu­man­ist side.

In a widely dis­trib­uted chat feed since his pass­ing, a friend writes: “The colour­ful Rok Ajulu had this Volk­swa­gen, which he called ‘Things Fall Apart’. One could find the car parked for a minute or even five days in Roma or around Maseru. Things Fall Apart was a spe­cial car that served the pur­pose of ac­tivists or stu­dents alike, for as long as it moved from point A to point B. As an ac­tivist you could re­quest a lift in that car or even bor­row it with­out fail­ure, of course at the risk of it break­ing down some­where or run­ning out of petrol as soon as you went into it. Things Fall Apart shared a rep­u­ta­tion of its own. [Ajulu] had great hopes for the strug­gle of the peo­ple of South Africa, but greater hope for the free­dom of our coun­try.”

In his book ti­tled Fac­ing Mount Kenya, Jomo Keny­atta ar­gued that the ra­tio­nale for the strug­gle of free­dom was to en­sure that twin ob­jec­tives are re­alised so that “our chil­dren may learn about the heroes of the past. [But] our task is to make our­selves the ar­chi­tects of the future.”

The life story of Ajulu has been in ar­dent ful­fil­ment of the sec­ond obli­ga­tion – to be the ar­chi­tect of the future. The first obli­ga­tion was at­tained by the ear­lier strug­gles for free­dom.

Ajulu’s life story has been that of a con­tin­u­ous ac­tor in the theatre of strug­gle to fight for the cre­ation of the new ar­chi­tec­ture of a free and lib­er­ated Kenya and South Africa.

The man­tle of re­sis­tance was strongly etched in his life and be­came his sec­ond na­ture. He es­chewed all forms of op­pres­sion wher­ever he could de­tect them and evoked the most fierce and bel­li­cose of re­sponses to com­bat it.

Ajulu’s life is in­trin­si­cally in­ter­twined with the po­lit­i­cal life of Kenya.

Af­ter the glo­ri­ous years of its early demo­cratic era un­der pres­i­dent Jomo Keny­atta, Kenya was plunged into a state of tyranny un­der pres­i­dent Daniel arap Moi.

Soon sup­pres­sion of all forms of op­po­si­tion and to­tal­i­tar­i­an­ism fol­lowed. This in­cluded the ban­ish­ment and sup­pres­sion of the vo­cal Nairobi Univer­sity Staff Union to which Ajulu be­longed. This saw his ex­ile to Le­sotho where he joined the strug­gle against apartheid South Africa.

At the univer­sity there he made nu­mer­ous friends with mem­bers of the ex­iled com­mu­nity of south­ern Africa and saw their strug­gle as in­tri­cately linked to his own.

Through his self­less strug­gle, Ajulu has laid the foun­da­tion of a new demo­cratic and egal­i­tar­ian ar­chi­tec­ture that will en­sure that future gen­er­a­tions are un­af­fected by the mis­rule of the past.

Thami ka Plaatjie and Sipho Seepe

Ajulu’s rest­ing place will be at his home in Kisumu, Kenya

Pro­fes­sor Rok Ajulu and his wife, Lindiwe Sisulu

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