South Africa

Returning to Principled Internationalism: A Tribute to Prof Rok Ajulu

By Sipho Pityana 7 January 2017

My biggest take away from Ajulu's life is that he was an internationalist who truly understood the concept of international solidarity – and deployed it with admirable altruism, generosity and dedication. By Save South Africa convenor SIPHO PITYANA.

Unisa, 07 January 2017

Programme director, my dear sister and Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, the Ajulu and Sisulu families, honorable Cabinet Ministers, the academic community, members of the diplomatic corps, distinguished guests, comrades, ladies and gentlemen

I am humbled by the family’s request that I say a few words on this sad day in which we are enjoined to celebrate Ajulu’s life and draw important lessons from his personal journey.

Ajulu is hard to imagine still and quiet. He was full of life and vigorously engaged in any sphere of endeavor he chose to involve himself. You’ll hear a lot about his somewhat excessive confidence, which often could be accurately described as arrogance. But he would have none of it.

If you wanted a taste of that, try and take him on in his specialist field of academia. There, he would be unsparing. I once asked for his input on a research proposal I was working on. He replied: please withdraw it if you’ve already sent it, it’s a polemic that falls short of even the most basic journalistic standards. It’s too embarrassing. Go and read some more and rewrite — only then will I meet with you and discuss.

Needless to say, I proceeded with my scheduled discussion with the relevant institution, and the proposal was approved with great excitement. His retort, of course, was: do you mean academic standards in this country have gone down so badly that a so called ivy league institution would accept such trash — or are you now into this affirmative action nonsense? You are too good to settle for that.

He was never going to concede that he might have been wrong

Even in an area where he was least competent, he would confidently dish out his limited knowledge with disturbing levels of confidence. He did this best with golf. On one occasion he took his wife to Colbyne driving range. My instructor saw the mess he was doing and abandoned me and went to assist both him and Lindi on golf techniques. Afterwards, as my instructor and I were leaving, I could hear him tell Lindi that there are many of these golf techniques, just ignore that fool and do as I tell you. His handicap at the time must have been about twenty.

Any caddy or golf course official that called him by his name would be chastised before being told to address him as Professor. Anybody you invited to play with us would have to be forewarned of Ajulu’s rather unconventional conduct of playing mind games and disturbing his opponent; otherwise he could easily make for a frustrating golf partner.

Needless to say, he was a better golfer than me. No doubt, he’d have been happy to hear me admit to that.

My biggest take away from Ajulu’s life is that he was an internationalist who truly understood the concept of international solidarity — and deployed it with admirable altruism, generosity and dedication.

When I first met him in Lesotho in 1982, having just fled the country as a trade union leader, I was amazed by his detailed knowledge of the politics of the South African trade union movement. As you would expect of Ajulu, he had a strong opinion of the efficacy of our tactics as we were engaged in trade union unity project, very much to my irritation. I also found that he knew a lot about what was happening in South African politics.

When he moved to the UK, he found me there. Like me, he joined the international peace movement that was led by the Council for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). It was the largest civil society campaign in the UK at the time and, possibly, in the world. In addition to his active role in the anti apartheid movement there, we were together in many other international solidarity movements supporting the Chileans against Pinochet’s dictatorship, the Palestinians, the Vietnamese, the Polisario Front against the Moroccans, the Sandinistas of Nicaragua and far too many more to mention here.

Ajulu was a soldier for a humane, fair, just and equitable international order. It is right that he died in South Africa, for the world was his home.

It was natural that he would join us in our struggle for South Africa’s freedom because our national liberation galvanized the widest spectrum of the international community like no other. The world condemned apartheid as a crime against humanity, and this led to the strengthening of the notion that the rights and dignity of people should be paramount. In the early years of a free South Africa, this provided the foundations of our foreign policy.

In celebrating Ajulu’s life, we must introspect about how we were once regarded in global politics while still a liberation movement, how we were perceived in the early years of our new-found democracy, and where we are now on the global stage.

Ajulu would have expected us to be rigorous about this.

Can we truly claim to have been on the same journey of internationalism and solidarity when we abandoned the nations of Africa and supported UN Resolution 1973, which resulted in the air bombardment of Libya and the gruesome murder of Gaddafi? Can we absolve ourselves from the continued conflict and instability in that country which has resulted from that escapade?

Are we still internationalists when we deny the Dalai Lama right of entry to a free South Africa, even when invited by the doyen of our liberation struggle, Archbishop Desmond Tutu?

No doubt, many who formed part of that international solidarity movement, Rok included, would have been puzzled, if not deeply disappointed that a country whose constitution affirms LGBTI rights, would abstain at the UN Human Rights Commission when a motion proposing these rights is tabled. Or that, as a country that places a premium on the right to access to information, we would at the same Commission vote against a motion for Internet freedoms that are denied to so many in the world?

When we do these things, are we not betraying the many who travelled this journey with us?

We’ve made strides and built a fantastic reputation as an active player in promoting world peace. But we are now in a realm where private business interests connected to some of our political leaders are allegedly pursued in countries like the Central Africa Republic and the DRC among others, at the same time as we have ostensibly deployed personnel for capacity building and peace keeping.

Have we forgotten about the murderous crusade of the Al-Bashir Regime of Sudan or the Rwandan genocide, the bloody escapades of Charles Taylor in Liberia, and the many others?

Should the perpetrators of these war crimes and human rights abuses, and many more who may contemplate the same, not be brought to book?

We must accept that, in attempting to exit the International Criminal Court, we are seen to have chosen the side of the perpetrators of abuses, and callously and cold heartedly turned our backs on the victims. And we have done so without doing anything to establish an African Court on Human Rights.

In the same way, we can be accused of turning a blind eye to the reign of terror and human rights violations in Zimbabwe. This is a blight on our nation’s constant assertions that we endeavor to create a better world; and yet our neighbour right next door, on our watch, has plunged a great country into a dungeon of misery and strife.

The truth is that we are bordering on rogue diplomacy. We are propagating impunity.

What does all this say about what really drives our foreign policy, 22 years into our democracy? What does it say about our leadership, and their agenda? Why has global respect for South Africa regressed? Why has South Africa’s global influence diminished? Why have we lost our moral authority?

I am afraid the answer lies at home, and not abroad.

After all, how can we provide the moral authority that was a hallmark of the Mandela administration when we have no moral authority at home? How can we expect to exercise global leadership when there is such a leadership vacuum inside our own country?

These are hard questions, and they may make some of us uncomfortable. But I believe we have to ask these questions, and answer them – very frankly – if we are to be as honest with ourselves as Ajulu was with us.

Because Ajulu, like an increasing number of South Africans, would be right to feel betrayed, when the leadership of a country that emerged as a beacon of hope is suddenly doing everything to turn its back on these fundamental values.

And it is not just the ANC that is at fault. How can we be genuine about our fight against xenophobia when the recommendations of the Human Rights Commission are ignored; when leaders like the Mayor of Johannesburg imagine that every illegal immigrant is a criminal, and there is not even a word of reprimand from his party, which claims to be a champion of the constitution?

The reality is that the betrayal of the values of our nation, as enshrined in our Constitution, is also carried out in the international arena by a leadership that does not think honour and integrity count for much. And so, in the same way that our Constitution and our sovereignty are disrespected, so too are our international principles.

Consequently, South Africa — a nation that held moral authority in the world and commanded tremendous respect — is now as discredited as the leader it continues to keep at the helm — with disastrous consequences.

But it is not to late to address this, Zem’inkomo magwala ndini. Muster your courage, rise up and SAVE SOUTH AFRICA before it’s too late

Farewell Comrade Ajulu! My professor, my brother and friend.

You are among the few I can, with pride, still call a comrade. DM

Photo: Prof Rok Ajulu (Twitter/Shaka Sisulu)

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