South Africa is home to almost 10% of the world's known plant species and 15% of all known coastal marine species. The country's rich biodiversity has given it a scientific competitive edge in the sphere of indigenous knowledge systems (IKS).

 

Already, about 20 000 tons of medicinal plants are exported from South Africa each year. About 24 000 plant species exist in the country of which 4 000 are used to manufacture medicines. Current initiatives for harvesting indigenous knowledge hold major benefits for economic development, medicine and exports.

 

A number of these initiatives are on display at the 2017 Indigenous Knowledge Systems Expo taking place at the Mbombela Stadium in Mpumalanga.

 

The Department of Science and Technology hosts the annual event. This year the Department has partnered with the Mpumalanga Provincial Government. The event is themed "Indigenous knowledge, protecting it for future generations", and is supported by the Department of Arts and Culture and the Department of Tourism as part of Heritage Month.

 

Addressing yesterday's colourful opening, the Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor, urged the older generation to pass indigenous knowledge on to the youth, who would use technology and innovation to advance IKS in the country.

 

"Elders have been vanguards of indigenous knowledge, but if that knowledge is not transferred to the youth, it is certainly not sustainable and is likely to be lost forever," said the Minister.

 

Minister Pandor called on communities to protect and preserve indigenous knowledge. She added that indigenous knowledge offers opportunities to explore avenues for innovation and commercialisation in order to contribute towards addressing the challenges of unemployment, inequality and poverty.

 

"Communities' knowledge has been unjustly exploited by opportunists without any form of beneficiation to the owners of the knowledge. Some communities have sold their knowledge without the realisation that by accepting money, they are actually selling off their national treasure."

 

Speaking on behalf of the Premier of Mpumalanga, David Mabuza, the MEC for Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Refilwe Mtsweni, said the exploitation and loss of indigenous knowledge in the country deterred innovation, commercialisation and economic stability among the communities who were the most vulnerable.

 

"The launch of this Indigenous Knowledge Expo affirms our resolve to protect and promote our culture and ensures that our traditions form part of our daily activities," said MEC Mtsweni.

 

This year's event featured an IKS award for high school learners. Sixteen-year-old Njabulo Matsana walked away with the main prize, a bursary to study for a degree in IKS in 2019. The grade 11 pupil wrote the winning essay, which appealed to elders to stop treating indigenous knowledge as "a closed treasure box".

 

The expo will end on Thursday, 28 September. The programme features a line-up of topics, including how communities can derive economic opportunities from indigenous knowledge, and the process to turn the Indigenous Knowledge Bill into law.