Will they behave though?
Newscom: 14 July 2009 - Dhaka, Bangladesh - Director General of Bangladesh’s paramilitary border force Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) Mainul Islam (L) and Director General of the Indian Border Security Force (BSF) Mahendra Lal Kumawat attend a joint press conference in Dhaka, capital of Bangladesh, on July 14, 2009. Chiefs of the Bangladesh’s and Indian border forces on Tuesday concluded their three-day talks here with a broad-based agreement to maintain calm along the common borders combating trans-border crimes. Photo Credit: Palash Khan / Sipa Press/0907141624 Photo via Newscom
I met Billy Nair in 1988 during the third emergency in South Africa. He was underground at the time and we met in the dead of night in Reservoir Hills, Durban for an interview. We spent a couple of hours chatting about his life, and the state of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa. It was one of the most educational two hours I have ever spent in my life.
Today after a week in ICU, this stalwart of the anti-apartheid movement has passed away. Go well, comrade.
Victory Day in Bangladesh and Reconciliation Day in South Africa.
And as I am currently located in Glasgow, here is a fitting prayer for this day from Scotland:
Then let us pray that come it may,
As come it will for a’ that.
That sense and worth o’er a’ the earth,
Shall bear the gree, an’ a’ that.
For a’ that an’ a’ that,
It’s coming yet for a’ that,
That man to man, the world o’er,
Shall brothers be for a’ that.
The Bengal Art gallery is always a pleasure to visit. Of course like so many other things, it turns out that it may have been built with dodgy money. Its founder Abul Khair Litu is under suspicion for corruption (but is serving his remand time in hospital of course) …Yesterday some insiders were hopeful that he might get bail at the end of the month. Whilst the gallery continues to put on exhibitions, apparently the absence of the impresario has affected Bengal Foundation projects.
And there is added reason to visit the area these days. The unbelievable good news is that Nandos is opening opposite the gallery very shortly! This is an incredible badge of confidence in the republic of Bangladesh by a foreign investor. I have no reason to believe that it too is locally associated with dodgy money but I do know that Robert Brazon’s brand had very difficult and humble beginnings. Mr Brazon was in his thirties when he decided he would market peri-peri chicken in South Africa. The banks rejected him doubting his ability to compete with KFC and Chicken-Licken. The chicken farms also initially did not come forward. But somehow he broke through the barriers and today his chain spans all five continents I believe. I have the good fortune of having not one but two in my home town of Cambridge. It is a shame that the marketing is overwhelmingly “Portugese” slanted and its South African origins are all but buried. So here is a snap of it in Dhanmondi opposite the Bengal ( you can see me in the foreground dressed as a bush. My way of dealing with the curfew):
Farjana Godhuly captures the celebrations around South Africa’s humiliation by the Bangladesh cricket team in Guyana. Apparently the rainy days have been affecting the morale of the south african team. Yeah right.
The bihari issue in bangladesh is not likely to feature in this caretarker administrations sights. Indeed it hasn’t featured in the sights of any government.
Last year it was noticeable from the press releases and statements of the UNHCR that there was a disjuncture between the approach of the foreign ministry ( = it is an issue for Pakistan) and that of Khaleda’s office ( = we are already integrating biharis). But really nothing was being done. So much time has passed and it is incredible that we can’t resolve this issue. Feelings run high at the very mention of the name. I was talking to an outwardly sane chap only the other day and when I mentioned this as a possible documentary project, he started telling me stories about how the bihairs would fling bengali children in the air and bayonet them during the war….end of conversation.
Yet there are so many examples to draw upon. The South African TRC, problematic though it was, has useful lessons.The Cambodians have started the process. And this week, Timor and Indonesia have got down to it. I have to say the joint Indonesia-East Timor Commission of Truth and Friendship looks even more problematic than the South African TRC. In fact it looks seriously flawed. That should not be reason to not bother with things in bangladesh. Everything is open to contestation, to bargaining and to negotiation. And so the various stakeholders really need to gear themselves up to deal with the issue. Certainly the bihari issue is located within the pro-liberation and anti-liberation cat-calling that goes on but surely, given the conjuncture, there is no better time to deal with it than now?
The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission was both problematic and inspirational. Its reverberations continue down the years. A couple of weeks ago an extraordinary act of repentance took place when the former hated law and order minister of the apartheid regime, Adrian Vlok, publicly washed the feet of a former liberation fighter - the Reverend Frank Chikane. Today I read that Vlok has encouraged other former apartheid security police agents to come forward and seek atonement.
What chance is there for a similar forum for reconciliation in Bangladesh? The splits of 1971 and 1975 are tradegies of national proportions but
they can be accommodated within a mature and functioning democracy. Without this the political forces in the country are unlikely to reach a durable and permanent solution to the problems affecting Bangladeshi democracy. Reconciliation is both a goal and a process. The process would reinforce the norms and institutions for peace and democracy and create mechanisms that can find a way out of the incredibly futile and violent nature of current politics in the country.
But in the meantime, enjoy the show.
The Travelling Film South Asia festival hit the road at the end of last month. Featuring documentaries, this festival has become a real eye-opener encouraging political/social expression in this medium.
One docu that was produced last yearÂ is Tanvir Mokammel’s excellent but painful “Teardrops of Karnaphuli” (made 2005). Through the words of the inhabitants of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), both “hill people” and recently arrived bengalis, Tanvir eloquently tells the devastating story of dam construction in the area, the displacement of people and the resulting impoverishment of local inhabitants. The film focusses on how the Bangladeshi government then started settling people from the late 70s from outside the area, and how this laid the basis for protracted instability and human rights violations.
Here is a snippet of a conversation Tanvir has with Basundhara Dewan, widow of a pioneer painter of the CHT area, Chunilal Dewan:
In childhood we studied with Bengalis in school. We never quarelled. We never uttered who was a Muslim or a Bengali. There was no question then who was a Chakma or a Bengali. We lived in harmony. Water came and people became poor. Rehabilitation wasn’t properly done. Some received. Some did not. Those who received - the settlers came and occupied what they had received. Lots of violence began. Without feuding and fighting someone’s land can’t be occupied. Our lives became troubled.
Interestingly, for my South African mates, the festival includes a documentary from South Africa, called “Dirty Laundry,” exploring the issue of indian identity in post-apartheid South Africa. Give me a shout if you have any info about it.
Strini Moodley, a founder of the black consciousness movement in South Africa, died today. And today is South African Freedom Day….I met him once or twice but knew some members of his family better. His mum, who must be in her eighties, survives him. His funeral is on sunday.
I was in Joburg about a year ago. And my visit to the consitutional court was wonderful and special. Today, lots of special events were held there and all over South Africa in commemoration of South Africa’s human rights day. The day is in remembrance of the Sharpeville massacre of 1960 when apartheid forces gunned down people demanding basic human rights. The legacy of the anti-apartheid struggle should be an inspiration to all progressive people. That struggle held aloft the values of human dignity, equality and freedom.
I heard about Sophiatown from South African anti-apartheid activists in the 80s. It was a legendary place. In the nineties when i was doing research in South Africa I saw a very, very moving museum installation about it in Museum Afrika in Joburg. I found myself in the ridiculous predicament of having to hold back tears. Today I delight at this news here. The original name has been restored to this Johannesburg suburb. Symbolic only yes but a statement nevertheless.
The BBC omitted to cover another name change earlier in the week. The great anti-apartheid fighter and later housing minister, Joe Slovo, had a busy road named after him in Joburg. Where else on the planet would you have a communist party general secretary honoured like this?
Check the treatment meted out to the EU Troika and compare it to the reatment given to the visiting US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs, Christina Rocca ( a former CIA agent of 15 years standing). The EU Troika go to Dhaka and try to speak as constructively as possible. In an earlier post I described how they raised the issue of an independent election commission and the need for politics to become less confrontational. They got snubbed by Khaleda Zia and the Election Commissioner. Indeed the latter pretended to be in hospital….Now when Rocca arrives the first thing she does is say that Bangladesh is not only a “functioning democracy but a shining role model of Muslim democracy.” And what is she primarilly referring to in that phrase: yup the “anti-terrorism efforts” of the Bangladesh government. Bangladesh is a partner in the fight against terror and all that crap. She hits the mark and she is feted. She has said nothing yet about the election commission and its need to be independent. Doesn’t even matter if you are in bed with the fundamentalist Jamaat.
Talking of fundies. Notice all the acres of newsprint given over to the Hamas victory. And the Israeli hawks see this as yet another opportunity to shut down the already mangled peace process. If the Afrikaners in South Africa could sit down with the ANC - why can’t these zionists sit with these fundies? The transition in South Africa showed that a state at war with neighbouring countires, a state facing defiance and violence within the country and a state responsible for the deaths of thousands and thousands of people can still move on and within a relatively short time become a country that isn’t plagued by terrorism - state terrorism or the “terrorism” of those who are desperate and without hope.
Well, it seems that the media in South Africa are still not running with the scandal of the Washington lobbyist Abramoff and his shady links with apartheid spooks and Tony Leon (the leader of the Democratic Alliance in South Africa, pictured above). Wayne Madsen says he has been threatened after he published his exclusive, and the Mail and Guardian in South Africa which made mention of this dirty business on the 20th January in an article by Claudia Braude headlined “A blast from the past” and “United States scandal revives apartheid-era dirty tricks of top Democratic Alliance official” does not feature the article on the web anymore. Spooky or what? And are the ANC too mired in their own scandals to highlight it?
Wayne Madsen has an exclusive on the links between Tony Leon and some nasty apartheid spies. Read it HERE. The entries are Jan21 and Jan22. Tony Leon is the leader of the Democratic Alliance, the official opposition to the ANC government. Craig Williamson, a particularly plump nasty responsible for many important killings, and old Tony Leon are best of buddies it looks like. Thanks to D in Joburg for the link. Why haven’t the press in SA run with it yet? Or have they? Lemme know.