The culturally vibrant Freedom Park formed the backdrop for the Indigenous Knowledge System Documentation Centres (IKSDC) knowledge-sharing forum.

 

Located in Pretoria, Freedom Park is a memorial to honour those who sacrificed their lives to win freedom.  It also celebrates and explores the country's diverse peoples, and our common humanity.

 

It was in this setting that stakeholders from across the country gathered and discussed a wide range of issues pertaining to the documentation, protection and management of indigenous knowledge.

 

The two-day event, which started on 22 January 2018, was held under the theme "Reclaiming the future of indigenous knowledge''.  For the first time, all nine provinces were represented and participated in the discussions.

 

With the forum aimed at creating a knowledge-sharing platform for IKSDC teams, the discussions focused on the vision behind the National Recordal System (NRS), reviewing the state of documentation across all IKSDCs, refining the NRS documentation processes across the provinces, and sharing best practices across IKSDCs.

 

The CEO of Freedom Park, Jane Mufamadi, said that one of the strategic objectives of the conference was to establish mechanisms to promote, protect and preserve IKS.  "According to the South African Social Attitudes Survey, many people believe that IKS can be leading contributor to South Africa's progress and development," she said, adding that government was doing more to support communities involved in IKS, to promote small business using IKS, and to invest more on protecting IKS.

 

Also addressing the event, Promise Khumalo, founder of Pan African Genesis said, "indigenous people have the ability to interpret and react to people's modern lifestyle challenges in creative ways, drawing on our traditional knowledge and other technologies to develop solutions, but IK practitioners are not recognised or protected." Pan African Genesis is a non-profit organisation focused on the socio-economic upliftment of South African military veterans and founded on a principle of moving this nation from conflict to reconciliation.

 

Gauteng Sports, Arts and Culture, and Recreation Head of Department, Monica Newton, encouraged participants to use the conference as an opportunity to document not only what people had done in the past but also what people are doing at present.

 

The Department of Science and Technology's Chief Director: Science Missions, Dr Yonah Seleti, said, "Indigenous knowledge needs to be protected because using IK we can create our dreams and future."

 

He added that IK was about community-centred development and collecting knowledge. He believes that IKS is important to our society, and that people need to go back to indigenous knowledge.

 

The conference looked at using regional, national and international instruments for the promotion and protection of IKS, using technology for innovation and entrepreneurship, and developing a system of accreditation and certification for IKS holders, as well as challenges and opportunities for IKS in the education system.

 

Last year, the Minister of Science and Technology presented the Protection, Promotion, Development and Management of Indigenous Knowledge Systems Bill to Parliament. The Bill seeks to provide legal protection for indigenous knowledge, i.e. knowledge generated and owned by communities. Such knowledge includes medical practices, the production of food products and cultural expressions, songs and designs.

 

In her address to Parliament, the Minister explained that indigenous knowledge was not protected by South Africa's intellectual property law, and that the Bill is intended to puts an end to that anomaly and the exploitation of indigenous knowledge by international companies.

 

Indigenous knowledge generates value that is currently not recognised and compensated adequately, and IK holders are not rewarded when their knowledge is appropriated in the system currently in place.

 

Indigenous knowledge can help to meet the broader objectives of society, for instance conserving the environment, developing sustainable agriculture and ensuring food security, and its protection encourages the maintenance of traditional practices and lifestyles.  

 

In this sense, the notion of "protection" is quite different from the notion applied under mainstream intellectual property law. The Bill protects indigenous knowledge against "biopiracy" and mandates benefit sharing – as provided for under Articles 8(j), 15, 16 and 19 of the Convention on Biodiversity, rather than the establishment of a system of positive appropriation.

 

Moreover, the Bill will provide clarity on the scope of incentives for and benefits of investing in indigenous-knowledge research and development.

 

The Bill has still has to be passed by Parliament.