Rok Ajulu: Ardent activist and scholar
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