Spirit of Ajulu lives on in our hearts
He was the authentic son of the soil, and with his selflessness and principles portrayed what it meant to be a true Pan Africanist who still had a powerful dream, writes Sandile Memela
THE PASSING of the highly esteemed academic and intellectual Professor Rok Ajulu marks the beginning of the end of an era in African politics and intellectual activism.
For the last 30 years he epitomised the emergence of a new African intellectual activist who used his knowledge, sharp insights and intellectuals skills to advance what has come to be known as an African Renaissance or agenda.
With his death from pancreatic cancer, what seemed certain now seems uncertain. It is hard to come across academics and elites who are interested in finding cures to the ills that confront Africa and its people.
At the time of his death, Ajulu was busy concluding an important book, Kenya: The Making of an Authoritarian and Predatory State.
It is the kind of book that will resonate with South African citizens in the light of the raging debate about a captured state.
Not many will have met or were taught by Ajulu, but he was a renowned intellectual who was held in high esteem.
In fact, he was the kind of man you knew without knowing him. Like Steve Biko or Jesus, you didn’t have to meet him. His reputation preceded him.
For about 40 years, he influenced and shaped African thinking to contribute to genuine liberation. It can certainly be asserted that 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-dependence political thought.
This made him more than just an academic or scholar.
As early as the 1980s, brothers and friends studying at Roma (as the University of Lesotho was known) spoke excitedly about this calibre of the new African intelligentsia: bold, fearless, clear-thinking and courageous. Ajulu was on top of the list. His name became known in Swaziland, Soweto, the 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 lectured between 1980 and 1984.
The man portrayed what it meant to be a true Pan Africanist.
He hailed from Kenya but was a global African, going to work in countries where his skills were needed.
He was detribalised. He was cosmopolitan. He was Western educated yet rooted in Afrocentric wisdom, knowledge and perspectives.
He was a specialist in African politics and international relations.
Ajulu left his own country to go to Lesotho, then Swaziland, and finally settled in South Africa, where he taught at the universities of Rhodes and Witwatersrand between 1994 and 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 the 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 Ajulu, the ideals of Kwame Nkrumah, Jomo Kenyatta, John Langalibalele Dube and other founding fathers of African self-determination were no relic of the past.
He still believed in the dream of African unity.
In a serious twist, Ajulu was based in Gauteng in 2008 during the explosion of xenophobia.
One shudders to think that such a man or person 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 such as the previous whites-only Rhodes and Wits.
His presence inspired and emboldened African students on these campuses – the way he talked, he walked, the straightforward truth he spoke.
He was not 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 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 woman 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 wasn’t 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.
Ajulu 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.
A true African man, a self-effacing leader. You didn’t have to meet him to know him. In Africa, your good deeds form their own language and speak of your work.
Ajulu’s works flew throughout the continent to serve his students.
How can a man who so few knew be such a great figure?
But no doubt, he has written and delivered a myriad scholarly papers and lectures. He is, indisputably, an insurgent intellectual and scholar.
Our hearts go out to his wife Lindiwe Sisulu and his family. Your loss is our loss. But we are all the richer.
Those who met and knew him say Ajulu was a remarkable man: learned, articulate, pleasant and insightful.
We are blessed to have had a man of such calibre among us. He was a true son of the soil.
And his spirit lives on. Sandile Memela is an accomplished journalist, renowned columnist, author and cultural critic.