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Bananas, Apartheid and Violence

10 June 2013, 15:08

There is a well-worn illustration that tells a story of 5 monkeys in a cage.  In the centre of the cage, suspended from the roof are a bunch of bananas.  Beneath the bananas is a step ladder.

Predictably the first monkey goes up the ladder to have a nutritious snack but at the last moment the bananas are jerked out of the cage, all the monkeys are sprayed with water and an electric shock is applied to all the reluctant inhabitants of the cage (no real monkeys were harmed during this illustration)

After each of the monkeys has had numerous attempts at the bananas they decide that they will have to give up on their favourite source of dietary potassium.  At this point one monkey is removed and replaced with a new one who doesn’t know the ‘banana dilemma’.  Predictable the monkey looks at the bananas, looks at the other four primate inmates and decides to play a little ‘tata ma banana’. 

The original monkeys, tired of being soaked, electrocuted and being bananaless, tackle the newcomer to the ground and give him a good beating to persuade him not to attempt the ‘banana run’ again.  The monkey doesn’t know why these others are being so unreasonable but understands that he is outnumbered so gives up.  He tries hard not to think about the bananas for the rest of his incarceration.

Another of the original monkeys is replaced.  Same story; New monkey makes a banana break, the three original AND the first replacement monkey beat him up even though the first replacement monkey does not know why he is doing so.

This continues until all the original monkeys have been replaced.  As the fifth replacement makes a bee-line for the bananas, the four replacement monkeys violently restrain him even though they have never been shocked themselves.

The obvious moral of this story is that we should not blindly follow the ways things have always been out of peer pressure but rather we should carefully think for ourselves the value in behaving the same way we have done in the past.

No reasonable person today would argue for the odious apparatus what went by the name of Apartheid but few people stop to realise that much of today’s problems result from people still behaving the way they did during the Apartheid years without stopping to consider whether such behaviour is still appropriate in a markedly changed environment.

The example I would like to refer to is the propensity to violence that plagues our society today.  I would suggest that this traces back to the anti-apartheid measures taken by those freedom-fighters who have now found themselves in leadership.

During Apartheid, there was no official political voice granted to the majority of the population.  With no political voice the strategy was to use economic power and civic unrest to demand the human right to have a say in the running of their country.

This strategy was simple and spectacularly successful.  The problem is that now the environment has changed, political voice has been granted for two decades; the need for a proxy for political power has ceased.

The problem is that during the struggle, leadership was valued on its ability to arrange protest, much of it violent.  Societies understood the need for supporting this leadership and learned that this behaviour was rewarded even to the extent that these leaders became establishment.  One of the symptoms of mediocre leadership is that it only encourages replication of its own style.  In other words, it is the rare ‘struggle born’ comrade who will recognise anything else in his protégé that a style suited for struggle.  Our government has been born with the seeds of its demise contained within this psyche.

And our hope for the future?  Our hope lies in the fact that our leaders will stop replicating themselves, stop rewarding the skills that make a society ungovernable and value a different leadership style to the one that did them so well; one built upon character, honesty and integrity. 

Do we have such leaders or will we merely satisfy ourselves with preventing others climbing the step ladder because we were beaten up when we tried?

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