Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 3, Issue 26, Wednesday February 8, 2006




My Memorable Years Spent In Africa

At last, one fine morning we started our journey for that much desired two-week holiday program. It was a three and a half hours journey by road and we reached Johannesburg at around noontime. I had been to Johannesburg quite a few times before and some times we stayed at Mr. and Mrs. Mullah's house, one of our Bangladeshi friends and sometimes we preferred to put up in a comfortable hotel. This time we stayed in a nice cosy hotel just for two days. In the afternoon we called on Mr. and Mrs. Muhammad Ali ,the Indian born South African citizens, and to Mr. And Mrs. Mullah. All of us went to see the Carlton Centre-the towering 51-storied building which is regarded as the world's largest reinforced concrete building. Only a century ago, Johannesburg was a rough and tough mining camp but at that time in 1991-92, it was the third largest city on the African continent. Johannesburg is internationally renowned for its business pulse and it is also regarded as the 'city of gold' to the 'e Goli' inhabitants, the black people. We also went to see a few ceaselessly playing fountains especially the one in Joubert park, it was just terrific!

The next day ,at night, while we were enjoying our open space dinner in front of the hotel, I marveled at the exotic dance performed by a particular tribe of South Africa called 'Zulu-ndlamu' Especially in the evening, in most of the hotels and restaurants, people enjoy open space 'braai, grilled chops, steaks and boerewors and sausages' ,and during that time, right in front of the hotel inhabitants,a group of black people perform a special dance. I watched intently the dancers' painted faces, head gears decorated with different birds' feathers and the repetitive percussive hand-claps or chanting of the audience. Sometimes the leader of the dance troop was whistling with a shrilled sound and others joined him by beating a strict tempo with kerries on the small cowhide which they carry. 'If it is a all-male dance then here, it is the leader who determines the routine not only of the movements but also of the characteristic high kick followed by stamping in 'unison'- the 'indlamu' in which the ground literally shakes, and which is traditional only to Bantu-speaking tribes of South Africa. Dancing often begins spontaneously, even among miners coming 'off-shift' at the end of a day spent underground. The spectacular 'gunboot dance' exemplifies this. Tribal finery of shields, necklets and resplendent ostrich-plumes is, infact, reserved for the organized dances.

The next morning we headed for Pretoria and we already informed Raymond, our South African friend about our arrival. Raymond received us at a particular hotel which he already booked for us . I was awfully impressed by the scenic beauty, & surroundings of that hotel. Everywhere there was an ancient touch, some kind of wild feelings that do not match with the present day's modern environment.. The children could not wait any longer so, right after the afternoon snacks and tea they went to swim in the exotic swimming pool. The swimming pool was surrounded by a thick jungle of wild flower plants ,so from inside the swimming pool you would feel that an animal might just come out from the bushy plants at any moment. I liked it very much for it was unusually different. I just sat beside the swimming pool and was thinking of dipping myself into the Jacuzzi at night.

The next day we were accompanied by both Raymond and Philip to visit their chandelier factory. I have no words to express the beauty of those delicate, expensive wonderful crystal products.

Pretoria is South Africa's capital and is the home of thousands of civil servants and scores of diplomats who are dedicated to the business of the government. We went to see the famous Union Buildings which dominate Pretoria and these were built on high hills so every corner of the buildings were clearly visible. The steps were all covered with colorful flowers and the surroundings were all covered by decorative gardens and historical statues. The most important statue was the statue of General Louis Botha, the first prime minister of a united South Africa. Raymond told me that Pretoria was once regarded as the city of roses for its extraordinary quality rose gardens all over the city. But then it turned into a city of Jacarandas as its wide streets were lined with more than 60,000 Jacaranda trees. If you are in Pretoria, in between October and November, you will find how the leafless branches of each tree turns into a lilac-blue haze and the ground is covered with falling blossom making it looked like a soft blue carpet. The more I saw, the more intense was my desire to uncover the beauty of Pretoria.

Then we went to the game reserve park where we rode on the cable car to look at the animals from a bird's view and to scan the whole area within a short span. To me, the giraffe were the most innocent looking animals and they shared stark similarities with the spotted deer . And the zebras were so wonderful to look at! From up there, the baby crocodiles looked like innumerable large sized insects. I felt as if I was in an Animal Paradise!

To be Continued…..
By Suraiya Zafar


Tapping the way out

The Government is planning to tap phone calls it considers to be suspicious. Amendments have been made to the Bangladesh Telecommunication Act, 2001. The changes now permit the law enforcement and members of intelligence agencies (including RAB) to tap telephone conversations. President Iajuddin Ahmed promulgated the ordinate, and Prime Minister Khaleda Zia approved of the Bill early last December.

The issue has raised considerable controversy recently. In order to better understand where we stand as citizens, it is important to look into both of the sides of the argument.

So, why such a decision, all of a sudden? As a matter of fact, the members of the government would point out that this has not been "all of a sudden." The aim of passing such an Act has been primarily to trace any terrorist activity, which seems to have proliferated over the last few months. The plans to tap phone calls initially started in an attempt to locate the whereabouts of militants including Shaikh Abdur Rahman and Siddiqur Rahman (aka "Bangla Bhai"). The Minister for Home Affairs, Lutfuzzaman Babar, believes that the Islamic network is maintained through mobile phones. Leaders tend to switch SIMs from various operators, and as of yet, over 250 mobile and TNT numbers have been collected by different intelligence agencies.

As such, the enactment of such a provision could allow the Police to pinpoint danger zones, targeted areas and extract critical information regarding the works of the malicious network. In simple terms, the Government is seeking to provide the citizens with safety and enhance national security. Thus, one of the basic rights of a citizen ("right to life") is protected.

On the other hand, is the right to be secured, at the expense of others? What about our rights to privacy, rights to free communication, rights to freedom of speech? Many view this Act as a mechanism for sliding Bangladesh into the shadows of a police-run state, with little democracy. The Telecommunication Minister Abu Sayed Khan stated, "Bangladesh already has some of the most restrictive laws in relation to internet and telephone access in the whole of Asia." Over 8 million people use cell phones and 9 million use land phones in Bangladesh today, as national statistics indicate. Are we ready to sacrifice the rights and liberties of these citizens?

Another cause of concern is that with the agencies given the power to pry on private chit-chats, is there a possibility of exploiting the power? If so, should there not be any mechanisms to hold them accountable?

However, this has been counter argued. The Act also provides that tapping can only take place after a permission is taken from the chief executive of the Home Ministry. Furthermore, the Law Minister, Modud Ahmed, assured that those who are innocent have nothing to fear.

The more intimidating aspect of the Act is that a suspect can be suspended and even under certain circumstances arrested, in the absence of concrete evidence, without being provided any compensation for it.

Nonetheless, the arguments aside, where this government action takes us is a speculative issue. Would the intelligence agencies strictly act within their jurisdiction, or would temptation get a better hold of them? In addition, were the amendments truly necessary? Are the militant groups well-stocked enough with resources to outsmart the new system? In the end, we can all hope that the government would not be its usual clumsy self, and that the benefits would outweigh the potential drawbacks.

By Shahmuddin Siddiky


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