Professor Ajulu Rok remains a pan-African critical thinker and thought leader. The passing on of one of Africa’s brightest brains is a wakeup call.
It behoves us as Africans to do all in our power to take very bold strategic and practical steps in institutionalising the production and reproduction of knowledge, to immortalise the thought processes that embed critical thinking and by the same token immortalise our thought leaders.
Death has robbed us of a rare brain in the person who at the National University of Lesotho (NUL) and in Lesotho generally was fondly known by the name Ajulu. Rok passed for his surname and he was known as Ajulu Rok.
But with his kinsmen assembled in South Africa this week before his mortal remains get accompanied to his native land, Kisumu in Kenya, I discovered that we had a distinct difference in arranging his names and more, I discovered that his other name is Richard. Hango another student at Roma from Namibia had to explain his initial, P, which to our horror stood for Primus. Whilst a number of the student body had European names, it was an unwritten rule to reject these colonial names and they were not generally used.
The life of Ajulu at NUL remains incomplete outside many of us in the student body who he touched with his sharp and often arrogant tongue. But I will be remiss if I do not distinctly mention the political debate leaders in the student body. These were the late Jerry Modisane and Gwentshe Mzimkulu from South Africa, Santho Sehoai from Lesotho, Mothusi Lekalake from Botswana, the late Crispen Mudenge from Zimbabwe and Ladu Gore then known to be from Uganda but actually from South Sudan. From the lecturing staff, John Bardill, Roger Southall, Malcolm Wallis and Stan Mudenge stood out. When it came to sports although not a soccer player himself, Ajulu died for the Rovers Football Club, the university football club. At the cafeteria after conjuring a demand for special diet from gogo Mmamodise, Ajulu would always say his was to eat a balanced diet.
There are many things that one can say and write about Professor Rok and his oft derogatory remarks about quislings. Behind the arrogance was always a deep and carrying smile. Ajulu was always at his best when there was political debate and several of those occurred in the lecture theatre where prominent speakers were invited to address the University Community. One such was addressed by the late Professor Es’kia Mphahlele who received a barrage of criticism for returning to apartheid South Africa having left it decades before. The charge was relentless and the likes of Ajulu, Gwentshe, and Jerry had smelt blood instead of the ash and nostalgia that Professor Mphahlele so elegantly presented from his then recently published book.
Another I distinctly remember is a lecture by an American diplomat who was elaborating on American foreign policy. I recall the remarks by Mothusi Lekalake after Ajulu had made his remarks. Mothusi argued that only the British ignorance on the diamond wealth in Botswana secured Botswana independence. Had the British known, he argued Botswana would still be colonised. By so doing Mothusi illustrated the general point that Ajulu had articulated on the neo-colonialist strategy that America exercised on Africa and South Africa more specifically. I attended political economy lectures with all these men and that shaped my acumen in placing statistics and economics at the service of humanity. None of them however were students of statistics and economics and thus I could not reciprocate.
Ajulu religiously took a journey to the library but would often not get in because some of the best political debates occurred outside the library and would be transferred and continue at the cafeteria at morning tea time. I was a beneficiary of those noisy debates as my hall of residence Moshoeshoe was next to the library and my room literally overlooked it. Next to my room was Crispen Mudenge’s room and then Ladu Gore’s room.
It was on one of those mornings that Ajulu was at his best walking noisily to the library and this time critiquing Ladu Gore. Ladu was 1.9 metres tall, well-built and used to be in Idi Amin’s army. He obviously heard Ajulu’s missives and he opened his window and said “Ajulu shit, shit Ajulu” and Ajulu went dead silent. Another day was in March 1980 and you would not help but hear Ajulu from far. I opened my window and asked what are you preparing lately Ajulu? To which he replied “Lehohla I am writing a thesis on the rise and fall of Mokhehle”. My retort was “Ajulu Mokhehle continues to rise, he will never fall”. Thirteen years later we met in Pretoria two days before the uprisings in Mafikeng occurred.
Ntsu Mokhehle of the BCP in Lesotho had just won a sweeping victory with all eighty constituencies voting BCP. We were attending a workshop at the HSRC and I least expected to meet Ajulu. As we met excited for having not seen each other in years and knowing that like myself we both left Lesotho unceremoniously under Prime Minister Jonathan’s rule, I could not help but ask for Ajulu’s thesis on the rise and fall of Mokhehle. He said to me “Lehohla go back to Lesotho before posts get taken up”. We indeed spend a splendid evening reminiscing about Roma and what each of us was doing but top on the list was Ladu Gore. Typical Ajulu he said you Student Liberation Front (SLF) members have always fought on the wrong side of the struggle. Ladu is now having to start all over again in the low ranks in SPLM. He is there suffering.
On the 10th of November 2015, NUL commemorated its 70th anniversary and we again met with Ajulu at this auspicious celebration and Ladu could not escape our discussion, and this time around it was about his possible expulsion from the party and again Ajulu said to me you see unlike CASSAS members, you SLF are always caught on the wrong side of the revolution. The address by Professor Njabulo Ndebele, the president of Pius College/ UBLS/NUL alumni was about what the meaning of the institution in Roma for generations to come mean. This is in particular in relation to regional integration in Africa, but more importantly the relations between the peoples of Lesotho and those of South Africa. His was to pose the question whether time is not ripe for the discussion and exploration of this relations. Ajulu Rok in many practical ways made it part of his responsibility as a pan-African to contribute in initiatives including those of movement and employment of Basotho in South Africa.
Perhaps the most telling of our times at Roma was when Ladu Gore who was filling in forms to register and there was a place for filling in career sort. Ladu Gore asked “what is this career sort? I want to be a revolutionary”. And thirty-nine years later, in April 2016, upon returning to Juba, Ladu said “I am not afraid for myself, as a revolutionary you could die any time. …I come to proclaim peace and reaffirm the peace accord signed in 2015”.
To understand the student politics of Roma and the shaping of leadership, coming from neighbouring countries, Kenya and Sudan, are, the now late Professor Rok Richard Ajulu, and still alive, General Ladu Gore, who stand out as true pan-Africans and revolutionaries who shaped and were shaped by Roma.
We thank Kenya to have donated to Lesotho and South Africa, the scholar, revolutionary, pan-Africanist and internationalist, Professor Rok Richard Ajulu. To his widow Lindi Sisulu, his children and the families of Ajulu and Sisulu, we are deeply indebted to you and your pain is our pain.
Author: Pali Lehohla is South Africa’s Statistician-General and head of Statistics South Africa