A 14th century Chinese parable by Liu-Ji outlines a derelict understanding of political power quite well.
Editor’s Memo with Dumisani Muleya
In the feudal state of Chu an old man survived by keeping monkeys in his service. The people of Chu called him “Jugong” (monkey master).
Each morning the old man would assemble the monkeys in his courtyard and order the eldest one to lead the others to the mountains to gather fruit.
Each monkey had to give one-tenth of his collection to the old man. Those who failed to do so would be ruthlessly whipped. All the monkeys suffered bitterly but dared not complain.
This story, originally titled Rule by Tricks is from Yu-li-zi by Liu Ji and has been translated by Sidney Tai.
Yu-li-zi is also the pseudonym of Liu Ji. The translation was originally published in Nonviolent Sanctions: News from the Albert Einstein Institution.
One day a small monkey asked the other primates: “Did the old man plant all the fruit trees and bushes?”
The other monkeys anxiously replied: “No, they grew naturally.” The small monkey further asked: “Can’t we take the fruits without the old man’s permission?” The others responded: “Yes, we all can!”
The small monkey continued: “Then, why should we depend on the old man; why must we all serve him?”
Before the small monkey was able to finish, all the monkeys suddenly became enlightened and woke up to the reality of the miserable conditions and existential threats.
On the same night, watching that the old man had fallen asleep, the monkeys tore down all the barricades of the stockade in which they were confined, and destroyed the enclosure entirely. They also took the fruits the old man had in storage to the woods and never returned.
The old man finally died of starvation. Yu-li-zi says, “Some men in the world rule their people by tricks and not by righteous principles. Aren’t they just like the monkey master?”
The moral of the story is contrary to popular opinion, leaders including rulers like President Robert Mugabe, are dependent on the population and societies they rule for survival. While some people think Zimbabweans owe Mugabe and Zanu PF a living, the reality is they owe their rule to the people.
Although rulers exert influence over the people through power and coercion, in reality people are masters of their countries and boss to their governments because they can change them as and when they want if they are get an opportunity and are determined enough.
That’s why we talk of “government of the people, by the people, for the people”, as the US declaration of independence put it. Leaders and governments come and go, but people remain.
When Zimbabwe’s liberation movements, of which Mugabe and others were part, swept across the region and the country their objective was to restore the status of people as masters, not slaves of their governments. It is sad to realise that 33 years after independence, Zimbabweans are treated as servants and Mugabe as their king.
We are always told we must be grateful to Mugabe and his cabal for liberating us. The people’s role in the struggle is conveniently forgotten.
This sort of thinking not only reflects the arrogance of politicians, but also indifference of the people themselves.
It is the root cause of failure in many African countries. So next week Zimbabweans must behave like the monkeys who brought down walls of repression and broke chains of tyranny after realising they are the masters of their own destiny and Jugong ––the monkey master –– could not survive without their support.