On Friday, 24 March, the Minister of Science and Technology, Derek Hanekom, launched the National Recordal System (NRS), which aims to protect, preserve and promote South Africa's indigenous knowledge (IK) by documenting and recording it.

 

Unlike many cultures whose history has been documented, South Africa's rich and colourful IK relies on the spoken word – a tradition carried over from generation to generation for millennia.  However, as communities become more sophisticated and urbanised, much of this IK is lost, misappropriated or misused.

 

Launching this project in Moruleng, in the North West, the Minister told the community of Bakgatla-Ba-Kgafela, which has been participating in the project, that it was urgent to document IK as South Africa was rapidly losing its respected elders.

 

"It is often said that, when an old person dies in Africa, a whole library disappears," said the Minister.

 

The traditional leader of Bakgatla-Ba-Kgafela Tribal Authority (BBKTA), Kgosi Nyalala Pilane, said the tribal authority was committed to ensuring that their shared cultural heritage, traditions and value systems were upheld for the benefit of current and future generations.

 

"Our vision is a model of an economically viable community that espouses and retains traditional values of botho," he said.

 

BBKTA intends to use its infrastructure and all its natural, financial and human resources to create an economically viable community through an extensive framework of activities, improving the quality of life of all its communities and creating a basis for sustained economic growth.

 

"It is our firm belief that our culture and identity are the pillars of our economic development journey, which is why we are participating in this project," Kgosi Pilane said, adding that this commitment had resulted in the development of an exceptional cultural heritage project.

 

The NRS was established in response to the Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS) Policy adopted by Cabinet in 2004.  Central to its success will be the National Indigenous Knowledge Management System (NIKMAS), an information and communication technology platform.

 

According to Riëtte Pretorius, Project Manager at the Meraka Institute, an operating unit of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), NIKMAS is a secure multimedia digital repository that supports the NRS processes, which include IK holder cataloguing, recording, verification, classification and authentication.

 

"The system is unique in that it records African IK in its original oral format, links it to a complex metadata schema, and provides the necessary mechanisms for both positive and defensive protection – the first of its kind internationally," she said.

 

The system comprises a number of subsystems that are combined in an overarching integration architecture supporting the following features:

·      A semantic digital repository with custom-developed metadata schemata.

·      A geographic positioning system (to document the locations of IK holders, communities and plants).

·      A sophisticated security model to preserve and protect IK.

·      An advanced semantic search engine to aid intelligent searching across a number of possibly related IK entries.

·      An IK holder cataloguing facility.

 

At present the system supports IK on African traditional medicine and indigenous foods, and will be developed at a later stage to include arts, crafts and farming practices.  Most importantly, it will enable communities to secure their knowledge and transform it into economic and social benefits, while at the same time saving it for posterity.

 

Currently, 21 community members have been equipped with computers and cameras, and are being trained to facilitate the NRS recording activities in their communities.  The data is verified by community elders before being submitted to the central NIKMAS mechanism, where it will be classified and the necessary security access levels set according to strict criteria.

 

Currently, IKS documentation centres have been established at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Vuwani Science Centre in Limpopo, Tsengiwe in the Eastern Cape, Thaba Nchu in the Free State, and Tshwane in Gauteng.  The plan is to have documentation centres in all the nine provinces by 2015.

 

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The Indigenous Knowledge Systems Policy

 

The IKS Policy established a platform for the recognition, affirmation, development, promotion and protection of IKS in South Africa.  The Department of Science and Technology created the National Indigenous Knowledge Systems Office (NIKSO) as a result of this policy.  Currently NIKSO is taking the lead in interfacing IKS with other recognised knowledge systems, with the aim of providing opportunities for the development of new products and services.

 

The policy indicates the need to establish a recordal system in which communities, guilds and other IK holders can record their knowledge in order to assist their interest in future economic benefits and social good based on IK.

 

The NRS initiative aims to address issues related to the individualistic nature of intellectual property regimes that create complications when applied to local communities.  The system will secure rights for communities, guilds and other IK holders that record their knowledge holdings, ensuring the protection of their interests, as well as educational and economic benefits in the future knowledge economy.

 

The CSIR Meraka Institute

 

The Meraka Institute is an operating unit of the CSIR that focuses on information and communication technology (ICT).  It promotes research, innovation and human capital development.

 

With over 200 staff and students, the Institute is the biggest organisation in South Africa dedicated to ICT research.  It has extensive national and international networks and actively collaborates with other organisations across the globe.  It contributes to improving the quality of life and economic competitiveness of South Africa and the continent.

 

Issued by Department of Science and Technology:

Veronica Mohapeloa

Deputy Director: Media Liaison

Tel.: 012 843 6788/082 882 3818

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

Technical information and queries:

Riëtte Pretorius

CSIR Project Manager

Tel.: 012 841 2623/082 800 5883

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.