Indigenous Knowledge Systems & IKS legislation overview

Higher Education, Science and Technology

19 February 2020
Chairperson: Mr M Mapulane (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

Documents handed out: Key Aspects of the Indigenous Knowledge Legislation and Implementation Readiness

The Department of Science and Innovation told the Committee that the Indigenous Knowledge Act was essentially about redress, and bringing indigenous knowledge into the main stream. It was also a transformative Act, because it addressed how indigenous communities could contribute and become part of the mainstream economy, using their own indigenous knowledge. Some of its objectives included governance and the proposal to establish an advisory panel, which would be inclusive in terms of gender and youth. There was the recognition of prior learning, to make it easier to move between formal and prior indigenous knowledge, and the implementation of an outcomes-based approach.

On its state of readiness to implement the Act, the Department had done a lot of work looking at certain areas. They were ready to run a pilot in KwaZulu-Natal and the North West, so they were moving accord to schedule. This was the most difficult area because traditional knowledge holders discussed knowledge in their own mother tongue, and a certain level of competence was required in order to create a medium for the transaction of indigenous knowledge.

Some of the priorities of the Department included finalising the format of certificates and the completion of the norms of standards in the provinces. The mobilisation of resources to run an effective system would be something they needed to look into, and the development of professional services by giving recognition to the relevant indigenous knowledge holders regarding these services.

The Chairperson referred to the “great passion and hard work” the DSI had put into the presentation, which was well received and appreciated by the Committee. They said the Department was moving in the right direction when it came to indigenous knowledge systems. Now, as a result of its work, indigenous knowledge systems could be preserved and provide current and future generations with knowledge such as languages, debunking colonial biological and scientific myths, as well as an indigenous perspective of history. They warned against allowing this bill to turn into a tool for large pharmaceutical companies to harness indigenous knowledge and use it to gain profit for themselves. They pointed out the importance of including indigenous knowledge and languages in universities, and having it held in the same regard as colonial education so that there was more inclusivity in terms of what kind of academic programmes were being taught, so that students were fully aware of their history.

Meeting report

Objects and Purpose of Indigenous Knowledge Act (No 6 of 2019)

The Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) said this Act was essentially about redress, and bringing indigenous knowledge into the main stream. This was also a transformative Act, because it addressed how indigenous communities could contribute and become part of the mainstream economy, using their own indigenous knowledge.

One of the key problems that had been identified by knowledge holders and law makers was the concept of bio-piracy. The products made as a result of that knowledge were being appropriated by people other than the traditional indigenous knowledge holders, and the traditional knowledge holders were not benefiting from that appropriation, or getting no credit, recognition or compensation. Secondly, the knowledge needed to be recorded and documented so that it could be protected and reserved.

The first objective was around governance and the proposal to establish an advisory panel, which would be inclusive in terms of gender and youth. Then there was the recognition of prior learning, to make it easier to move between formal and prior indigenous knowledge, and the implementation of an outcomes-based approach.

When it came to the registration of indigenous knowledge, there were registration and resource centres in all nine provinces where indigenous knowledge was being recorded. This sought to contribute to the preservation and maintenance of indigenous knowledge and also to the protection of traditional knowledge holders so that they did not get taken advantage of. Those who wanted to commercialise their knowledge had to be licensed, and provisions had been included in the Act to guide and educate traditional knowledge holders on how to go about doing this so that they could commercialise their knowledge and gain benefits from it.

There were also the dispute resolution committees. When it came to the use and commercialization of knowledge, there might be disputes between two communities who claimed to have the same knowledge. There may also be disputes between users and the custodians of the knowledge, so instead of taking these disputes to the court, which could be costly, the Act provided for a dispute resolution mechanism outside of going to court.

Key aspects of indigenous knowledge legislation and implementation readiness

In August 2019, the bill was consented to and it became an Act. The first of the key elements of the Act were the regulation elements. The regulations that would govern the act were 90% complete. The target was to complete them by the end of March, and the Department planned on making these public so that they could receive public input. The second key element was the intellectual property element. The intellectual property provision was new, and basically it gave the knowledge holder the right to use, deny and distribute that knowledge, which was a similar right that patent holders possessed.

Registration of indigenous knowledge was an area which had been the centre and focus of a lot of work. The last part of this which needed to be addressed was the database of indigenous knowledge. This needed to be made accessible because the collected knowledge had been collected in indigenous languages, and this had to be protected and promoted because of its authenticity. It also had to be protected from international piracy, as they would not understand the knowledge if they did not understand the indigenous language.

The centres which had been created had provided work for young people who were excited and enthusiastic, and had also provided job opportunities for women, which further contributed to redress. The Department was ready to roll out their registration systems, which had been tested for optimal use and efficiency for people who wanted to access indigenous knowledge, researchers, and any other interested parties.

The provisions for the recognition of prior learning were aimed at providing traditional knowledge holders with recognition so that they could use their knowledge in a more formalistic way, to get certified and derive benefits from it. This recognition was not only for indigenous medicine --recognition had been given to 16 areas of knowledge, including agriculture, technology and many more.

On the state of readiness, the Department had done a lot of work looking at certain areas and were ready to run a pilot in KwaZulu-Natal and the North West, so they were moving according to schedule. This was the most difficult area because traditional knowledge holders discuss knowledge in their own mother tongue, and there was a certain level of competence in order to create a medium for the transaction of indigenous knowledge.

Some of the priorities of the Department include finalising the format of certificates, and the completion of the norms of standards in the provinces. The mobilisation of resources to run an effective system would be something they needed to look into, as well as the development of professional services by giving recognition to the relevant indigenous knowledge regarding these services.

Finally, with regard to the commercialisation of indigenous knowledge, this was not done solely for profit generation -- it was done for other purposes such as social cohesion, so it played a much bigger role than just generating income and profit. Due to this process of commercialisation, jobs and commercial agreements were being created.

The Department hoped that some of the priorities which still needed to be looked at got addressed, such as setting up the operation unit. The prospects of recognition of indigenous knowledge looked positive. These include economic empowerment through integration, social transformation, wealth generation for traditional knowledge holders, and health benefits for the broader societies.

Discussion

The Chairperson thanked the Department for the presentation, and said it was clear that it had put great passion and effort into the work it had done.

Mr S Ngcobo (IFP) asked whether the information on the recognition of prior learning had been adequately filtered down to communities, because it was important for ordinary people to know how they could access this information and how to use it. Secondly, where were the offices located in the provinces which were in a state of readiness? Thirdly, how long did the full cycle of the process of accreditation take, and who were the qualified authorities responsible for this -- was it the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA), or was it some other body? Lastly, how soon would the establishment of the coordination office take place according to the projections of the Department?

Dr W Boshoff (FF Plus) wanted to know what happened in a situation where communities also claimed to have knowledge of a particular indigenous remedy, which another community had already registered, and also wanted to appropriate the benefits of commercialising the knowledge over that specific item, such as a certain medical plant, for example.

Mr P Keetse (EFF) said that although the preservation of indigenous languages was important, there was a danger of isolating indigenous knowledge production from mainstream knowledge production. He referred to the previous requests from students to decolonise education, and wanted to know how to avoid conflict between mainstream and indigenous knowledge when this happened.  He said one must not allow this bill to turn into a tool for large pharmaceutical companies to harness indigenous knowledge and use it to gain profit for themselves. He pointed out the importance of including indigenous knowledge and languages in universities, and for it to be held in the same regard as colonial education so that there was more inclusivity in terms of what kind of academic programmes were being taught, and that students were fully aware of their history.

Ms J Mananiso (ANC) asked about the registration process. She wanted to know if the DSI had only six recorders, as indicated in the documents presented, or if there were more. Secondly, with regard to the issue of pending meetings with stakeholders, was there any plan to convene those meetings soon so that it did not cause further delays.

Mr W Letsie (ANC) said there was no denying the fact that there had been piracy by large pharmaceutical companies when it came to indigenous knowledge, which had benefited from the appropriation of natural remedies, leaving no benefits for the indigenous people. He therefore expressed his appreciation of the Department’s efforts to protect indigenous people in cases like these. He wanted to know if indigenous people went to the information offices set up in various provinces to apply for help with extracting natural remedies and commercialising them. Finally he said that he appreciated the work done by the Department, and the fact that indigenous people could finally benefit from products which came from their own land, and be provided with assistance and knowledge as a result of this work.

Mr B Yabo (ANC) thanked the Department for their presentation, and said they were moving in the right direction when it cames to indigenous knowledge systems. Previously this was not in their lexicon, but now as a result of the work done by the Department, indigenous knowledge systems could be preserved and provide current and future generations with knowledge such as languages, debunking colonial biological and scientific myths, as well as an indigenous perspective of history.

Ms N Mkhatshwa (ANC) said she hoped the DSI were aware of the significance of the work they were doing, and the mammoth contribution it would make towards transformation as it related to social cohesion and the development of society. Identity played a big role in trying to achieve social connectedness, so as the Department continued to perform their tasks, they should broaden their scope of work so that they could include as many aspects of society as possible.

She suggested that there should be a colloquium so that the views of society could be heard with regard to the legislation presented. Protection of the indigenous people who try to commercialise their indigenous knowledge systems should be a priority, so that they did not get exploited.

It was important that there be interaction between various African societies, and it would make a lot of sense if they did not operate as a silo in South Africa. If they operated across the continent, they would gain a better understanding of the knowledge systems that were found currently in the geographic area of South Africa. It was also important to integrate IKS further into other departments, because some of the findings had to be integrated at a basic education level, so that indigenous knowledge did not become isolated from mainstream knowledge. Implementation was critical at this stage, so she would appreciate a timeline from the Department.

The Chairperson said it made sense to hold a colloquium on the topic in order to listen to all the perspectives, and to create an inclusive and national discussion on this legislation.

Department’s response

Mr Phil Mjwara, Director General: DSI, said that the Department would help the Committee to structure a colloquium. He agreed that it was necessary, and that implementation was the most important consideration at this point.

Mr Tom Shanandran, Director: DSI, said that South Africa was party to the Vienna Convention, and article 29 of this convention stated that no law could be applied in retrospect. However, according to other laws such as the Convention on Biodiversity, one could give effect to certain indigenous laws and knowledge retrospectively in certain instances

Mr Mmboneni Muofhe, Deputy Director General: DSI, referred to the issue of patents, and said that whichever community held a patent was entitled to the benefits thereof. Secondly, there were cases where indigenous people were sometimes not aware of the value of the knowledge they held, so the Department had taken steps to aid with this and provide traditional knowledge holders with protection by way of non-disclosure agreements, and other protective mechanisms. The Department had also continuously been working on other protective models.

Dr Yonah Seleti, Chief Director: Indigenous Knowledge Systems, DSI, said that just before the completion of the Parliamentary proceedings regarding the Act, a public awareness process was carried out, and this was done again once the Act came into effect. The Department was aware of the issue of piracy, and had taken steps to ensure that this issue was addressed, and that the correct protocol was followed when doing so.

Mr Mjwara said that the Department would have meetings with SAQA and the Quality Council for Trades and Occupations (QCTO) to decide who would be the authoritative body. He predicted that the process of registration and certification would have taken place within about six months.

The Chairperson thanked the Department for responding to the Committee and for the good work that they had been doing. The process of establishing an institutional unit needed to be accelerated. He had noted that there had been problems with resources, but the Committee and the Department would put their heads together to sort this out. There had to be a timeline so that there could be clarity when the time came to have a colloquium. A colloquium on this topic would allow the discussion to continue, and he requested Members to volunteer to make a presentation at the colloquium.

The meeting was adjourned. 

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