Raphael Kaplinsky reflects on remarkable life of Rok Ajulu

Published on 10 January 2017

Raphael Kaplinsky

Emeritus Fellow

IDS Emeritus Fellow Raphael Kaplinksy reflects on remarkable life of Professor Rok Ajulu.

Some people react to the weather, Rok made it! Rok Ajulu blew into my office in 1984. He informed me that I would be supervising his PhD dissertation despite my protests that I was overcommitted. His unusual ability meant that in reality there was little supervision required. One of the abiding memories I have is of participating in a well-attended anti-Apartheid demo in Trafalgar Square in the mid-1980s, and there, standing on the stage next to Oliver Thambo, wearing shiny dark glasses, was…Rok Ajulu.

Was I surprised? Of course not. Rok had the spirit and energy of a weather-maker, destined to blow away the breath of those who were privileged enough to work and socialise with him. His dissertation (Capital, the State and the Working Class in Kenya: Emasculation and Control of the Labour Movement, 1837-1969) was written at a time of intense debate on the existence and nature of dependent development in Kenya. Rok’s contributions to this debate were firmly in the Marxist tradition. He sought to rise above what had become a sterile debate on the nature of the indigenous bourgeoisie and to focus the role which the Kenyan state had played in the suppression of working class movements.

But Rok was not only a substantial intellectual. He had a vibrant presence on the campus, mobilising and organising African students and driving the University’s anti-apartheid movement. He carried this activism forward with characteristics energy in the two decades in which he lived and worked in South Africa after 1990.

We will miss Rok – the world will be a less exciting and less stimulating place without his vigour and his distinctive presence.

The views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author/s and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IDS.


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