Indigenous knowledge for economic development

The recently enacted Protection, Promotion, Development and Management of Indigenous Knowledge Act (IKS Act) set the tone for the biannual Indigenous Knowledge Systems Documentation Centres (IKSDCs) forum, a platform designed to share best practices in documenting IK.


The Act, signed into law last August, is aimed at protecting the vast treasure of South Africa's indigenous knowledge (IK) and recognises it as intellectual property that must be protected.


The event, held under the theme "Restoring the dignity of IK through quality documentation", took place in Upington, in the Northern Cape, from 2 to 5 March. About 70 delegates from across the country participated in the forum.


The National Recordal System, a flagship project of the Department of Science and Innovation, was established to document IK.  This is done through the work of IKSDCs, located throughout country.


Prof. Yonah Seleti, Chief Director: Science Missions at the Department of Science and Innovation, believes that the initiative has put South Africa in the lead on the continent in this sphere of work.


"South Africa has become an example to the rest of Africa. We are a country envied by other nations because the South African government is able to allocate resources for the collection and documentation of indigenous knowledge, something that is not happening in any of the other SADC countries or across the continent," he said.


Prof. Seleti told participants that, through their collection of IK, they were reclaiming a past that was not recognised by the apartheid government and that South Africa could be built into a great nation using its own knowledge, values and world view.


Jan Pieterson, an IKSDC recorder from the Northern Cape, said that IK holders in the Northern Cape are very enthusiastic about the documentation process, as they want to ensure that their knowledge will be preserved for future generations. He explained that the process of documenting knowledge was a long one, as many knowledge holders can know about many different uses for one plant.  In his experience, the biggest concern among the knowledge holders and practitioners was the issue of recognition and ownership of the knowledge, and what the knowledge will be used for.


A recorder from Gauteng, Onalenna Pega, said there that some indigenous knowledge holders were still reluctant to participate in the documentation project.


"There is a great need to hold community engagement workshops to educate the communities about the project in order for us to build trust. Some knowledge holders are still sceptical and are not revealing all their knowledge to the recorders. They have cited possible exploitation and theft of knowledge," said Pega.

Maphata Ramphele, Director for Heritage Services at the Gauteng Department of Sport, Arts, Culture and Recreation and a project manager at the province's IKSDC, said that the provincial government is serious about IK and implementing the Act.


Ramphele, a graduate in anthropology, said the IK she learnt from her grandfather helped shape her career choice.


"My grandfather taught us the value of traditional medicine from a young age and I developed a huge interest in IK. My research topic during the completion of my postgraduate degree in anthropology was the use of traditional medicine in healing young children from birth to two years of age. The findings of my research were presented to a number of health organisations."


Ramphele believes that IK can contribute to finding solutions for the current challenges facing society.


"It is very important to document IK so that future generations can find ways of progressing through IK. Indigenous knowledge has the potential to build the economy," she said.


Prof. Seleti echoed her sentiments.  He believes that IK can create jobs, products and services that South Africans will benefit from.


The latest development in the implementation of the IKS Act was the appointment of a 13-member steering committee by Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology, Dr Blade Nzimande. The committee will focus on the accreditation of institutions for the recognition of prior learning in African traditional medicines.



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