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 Star Early Edition - - INSIDE -

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.

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