Indigenous Knowledge Systems: briefing

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Meeting report


13 August 2002

Chairperson: Mr D Kgware

Documents Handed Out
Indigenous Knowledge Systems in South Africa: An overview

Department of Science and technology presented an overview of Indigenous Knowledge Systems in South Africa. It was envisaged that local holders of indigenous knowledge should derive long time benefit through regulations which would protect it from exploitation. This knowledge is being introduced in Universities and Technikons. Africa Renaissance would play a critical role in protecting Indigenous Knowledge Systems across the African Continent.

Briefing by Dr Mosimege
Dr Mogege Mosimege (Department of Science and Technology) presented on Indigenous Knowledge systems (IKS) discussing its origins, objectives and parameters. This knowledge is indigenous as it is embedded in local history and it is by such knowledge that indigenous people have survived for centuries although suppressed by apartheid and colonialism.

The present indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS) commenced in 1996 when Dr Serote then Minister of Arts and Culture shared his ideas on reviving indigenous knowledge with CSIR. CSIR commissioned the University of the North in Polokwane to investigate such knowledge involving five academic members were with a group of sixty students from undergraduate level up to the Masters level, a range of faculties were involved from Sciences to Humanities. They submitted their feedback on February 1997. Their finding was that there was substantial knowledge but it was not translated into subsistence business products. This led to the expansion of research to include nine Universities from seven provinces excluding Western Cape and Northern Cape.

Research teams started to involve various departments and they started to communicate across disciplines. Dr Serote approached various bodies of knowledge and it led to the establishment of science Council IKS Champions. As various departments became involved the department of Education introduced an undergraduate degree on IKS, one such degree is underway at the University of the North, the students are in currently in second year.

It was at this stage that Technikons were also brought in, due to the incident of a certain professor moving from a certain University to a Technikon where he introduced the programme. It should be known then that technology is about skill or applied expertise whereas IKS is about social capital and knowledge. This combination of Universities and Technikons in research of IK produced a document which was the first to share ideas on indigenous knowledge systems.

There have been various scholars who contributed in this field, for example Michael Warren an American who passed away about three years ago, coined the term traditional knowledge. He worked mostly in Africa where he established centres in Ghana, Nigeria and other countries. Ms Gremier identified the role of women in traditional knowledge, she indicated that they play a major role in IKS whether it be bead work, pottery or any other field. Dr Mosimege said what characterised IKS was its local, rural historical areas. It is uncodified, it passes from generation to generation through practice, it is mostly unrecorded. It is embedded in a culture and therefore transmitted knowledge. It is communal. Language plays a critical role in IKS. It serves cognitive interests.

In South Africa various programmes are underway to promote IKS for example the case of Vlakplaas which was identified as a centre for preservation of traditional healers. The Department of Science and Technology commissioned HSRC in January 2001 to redraft the policy bill on IKS, in June last year HSRC submitted the two documents to the department.s. IKS Directorate was set up to protect, direct developments on IKS in order to contribute to economic transformation and social transformation.

Objectives of the Directorate are to develop and implement IKS, to co-ordinate the knowledge across ministries that is inter-departmental relations. The aim is not to confine to a few departments but to invite all departments who can play a role, so that they can find out how policy impacts on them. IKS is much broader than just traditional healing. During colonialisation and apartheid, knowledge that was not Western was suppressed.

There is a need for the development of code of ethics for researchers, and indigenous practitioners, so that knowledge holders can derive long-time benefits from their knowledge. Certificates could be developed for acknowledgement. Ubuntu is also related to IKS thereof. The establishment of links between Africa might be easily accessible in Botswana, however in such cases holders of such knowledge would derive no benefit whether in South Africa or Botswana. The African Renaissance calls for IK holders to participate in committees to share and promote indigenous knowledge systems.

Please refer to attached document for further details.

Ms S Ntlabati said that traditional healers were a 'misfit in health' since they do not conform to "the rule and regulations of health".

Dr Temo (Department of Science and Technology) answered that "the involvement of Western chemicals to traditional medicine was just a distortion of traditional medicine. They were looking at what is held as gold not distortions."

Ms Jacobus asked how authentic was indigenous since there was interconnections across Africa and even Europe.

Dr Mosimege answered that, it was not that IK did not exist in other countries, but that it is a matter of context, South African context is unique in its own way. IK also refers to the knowledge that is of internal origin, a knowledge that was marginalised, suppressed and as a result lost its power, value and strength.

Dr Tema elaborated that transmit knowledge is transmitted through travel and communication across many countries.

Mr Raju (DP) asked for explanation of an indigenous practitioner, are academic qualifications necessary? He also asked what was done to record the information and what was meant by innovation.

Dr Mosimege answered that an indigenous practitioner had nothing to do with academic qualifications, he is qualified by his/her knowledge of the subject matter with or without paper backing whatsoever. He said innovation is not about living in the past but about acknowledging the past.

Mr B Zulu (ANC) asked that since there was no local beadwork producer and beadworker vast distances had to be travelled to obtain them. Sometimes they had to be imported from other countries. Could the Department not provide a machine to make them here in South Africa?

Dr Mosimege answered that this was also a concern of King Mahisha who mentioned it to Dr Serote on the later visit to the King. The efforts have been made to obtain the machine especially for Eastern Cape, Northern Cape, Kwa Zulu Natal and Mpumalanga.

Ms Ntlabati (ANC) asked if there was any move to teach IKS at schools.

Dr Tema answered there is a curriculum which is gaining momentum.

The Chairperson said that there were still lots of challenges and thanked the presenter. He then welcomed the Fullbright group of sixteen American academics who were visiting South Africa for four weeks.

Meeting was adjourned


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