Indigenous Knowledge Systems: briefing

Arts and Culture

09 February 2000
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Meeting report

9 February 2000

Documents handed out:
Presentation on Indigenous Knowledge Systems (attached to end of these minutes)

Chairperson: Dr M W Serote

The briefing detailed the theoretical approach from a legal and international point of view on how to protect indigenous knowledge. Envisaged legislation on indigenous knowledge systems is to be informed by public hearings.

This was followed by an explanation of the process that has been followed thus far in gathering information on indigenous knowledge systems and the different structures that have been involved. The Committee agreed that there is a need to bring together the different structures and bring abroad those stakeholders that might have been left out. The importance of empowering the indigenous knowledge practitioners to view themselves as integral role-players was emphasised.

Indigenous Knowledge Systems

Ms Nomazwi Siyotula, an attorney specialising in Patent, Copyright and Trademark Law gave a briefing to the Committee on Indigenous Knowledge Systems which she is involved in developing through legislation.

Ms Siyotula stated that the draft Bill, designed to regulate indigenous knowledge, would help to open debate on the subject which is still in its rudimentary stages. She affirmed that indigenous knowledge needs legal protection.

Internationally the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) has begun conducting conceptual groundwork, systematic data collection and fact finding missions across countries.

There is no universal definition of what constitutes indigenous knowledge or indigenous people. The United Nations does have a definition of indigenous people but it has technical problems as it has only been used to relate to the Khoi and Aborigines. It is trite to say that local communities protect indigenous knowledge. It is important that legal protection be extended to indigenous knowledge. There are different views on extending intellectual property protection to indigenous knowledge. Intellectual property protection is seen to be insufficient, for instance, as it protects the person who files patent first irrespective of the inventor. Our approach has to be holistic and integrative.

Real owners of industrial knowledge should get intellectual recognition and material compensation where appropriate. A register of indigenous knowledge has to be drawn up. It will be the duty of a steering committee to draw up the register to protect indigenous knowledge.

The following international conventions are relevant to indigenous knowledge:
1. Paris Convention for Protection of Industrial Property which envisages equality of treatment in intellectual property protection;
2. International Convention for Protection of Variety of Plants. Article 27 and 27(3) of Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) are important.
3. The 1992 United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity which sets out minimum norms and standards. Article 8 is important as it provides for fair and equitable share of benefits.

The committee has to assess how to deal with intellectual property aspects of indigenous knowledge in legislation. The draft bill has to implement research on the definition of indigenous knowledge. For instance, WIPO suggests the Bill covers folklore but not, for instance, manners relating to food, traditional dress, and so on. A decision has to be reached on what initially to protect. For instance, Costa Rica and the Phillipines cover bio-diversity. The meeting has to apply its minds as to what acts are illegal with reference to indigenous knowledge. Also the relationship between the Bill and South African Intellectual Property Law will have to be looked at.

Since the Bill is still in its rudimentary form interim measures have to be taken to protect indigenous knowledge. These might include: the use of existing intellectual copyright law to protect indigenous knowledge; uses of geographical indication e.g. the use of champagne relates to France; the use of the trade mark system to protect industrial designs e.g. South African beer pots - to protect the shape.

Further investigation on intellectual property aspects of indigenous knowledge involves WIPO. A decision would have to be made as to what is to be protected, the nature and extent of such protection. These will be informed by future public hearings. Indigenous knowledge is the property of the community. The State has a duty of protecting it but that does not accord it ownership of such indigenous knowledge. It is essential to ensure the participation of indigenous people from the beginning. Thus the steering body has to be inclusive of indigenous persons when considering the effectiveness of legislation.

Comments by committee members
Mr Serote stated that the Portfolio Committee has to see itself as the first line of defence for protection of indigenous knowledge because the process started with it. They would have to be even more vigilant as about R6 Million has been spent on the process. As mentioned by Ms Siyotula, interim measures are required. There has been an accumulation of pilot data which resides with the CSIR; this needs to be integrated with research and knowledge available elsewhere. The Committee has been aware, protective and at the same time open throughout the whole process.

Mr. Cassim (IFP) observed that it is important to look at vigilance and what can be done in this aspect. In the light of the pending legislation there might be individuals rushing to register patents; this necessitates the Committee meeting the Registrar of Patents so as to start producing ideas on how this can be addressed. It may be necessary to form a temporary directorate to oversee the register of indigenous knowledge. It would also be important to look at international experience to see what can be done and who can do it.

Ms Thseole (ANC) pointed out that it would need to be ensured that what is protected in South Africa is not open to exploitation in neighbouring states.

Ms Ghandhi (ANC) stated that when looking at legislation it is essential to balance the interests of the community and who benefits monetarily.

The Chairperson stated that there must be a linking with women's organisations that had taken part in the process in order to give them a report back. A national workshop has to revisit the report of the previous conference and look at other indigenous knowledge issues.

The committee adopted a principle position to the effect that Ms Siyotula will be conducting the public hearings.

The Process
Mr Mogege Mosimege, CSIR's Manager: Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Tertiary Initiatives, gave a briefing on the process which will lead to the public hearings which Ms Siyotula will be conducting.

He stated that the CSIR in collaboration with the University of North had tasked 60 students from different fields to interact with communities in the Northern Province on the subject of indigenous knowledge. The fieldwork culminated in a feedback workshop in February 1997 at the University of North. After this a decision was made to expand the project nationally. The expansion of the project involved historically disadvantaged universities such as Venda, North West, Boputhatswana, North (Qwa-Qwa), Vista (Mamelodi), Transkei, Fort Hare with the CSIR managing the process.

In the represented provinces (the Northern Cape, Free State and Western Cape are currently not included), the project was headed by individuals from a variety of fields. Each university conducted what was termed provincial workshops. Due to a number of factors, some areas were done in detail and some not.

All the details of the students involved are recorded on a database and they can be called in to the public hearings as they have been trained in indigenous knowledge fieldwork. In some institutions interaction with specialists at the highest level was possible. After the feedback workshops by the universities a national workshop was held and indigenous knowledge practitioners from whom information was gained were invited.

Around April 1997 a workshop was held dealing especially with the information emanating from the national conference. This was followed by a regional conference to interact with counterparts in neighbouring countries.

The National Research Foundation has a mandate to look at indigenous knowledge systems (IKS). The Science Council Indigenous Knowledge Champions had to meet at least once every two months to bring together researchers. The aim was to conscientise researchers within the Science Councils about IKS.

The forums at the universities may be called upon for use in the public hearing process. Structures that have been operational in the process are:
The Steering Committee - which was to be the highest decision-making body, chaired by the Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee and comprising government representatives, the business sector, the House of Traditional Leaders;
The IPOs comprised of the Chairs leading the audits at the different universities;
The Technical Committee comprised of members of the Portfolio Committee, to look at legislation and policy relating to IKS. This committee ceased to exist after the conference in Mafikeng. The Steering Committee is still in place and would be revamped to include other stakeholders. Legislation is important to afford protection to those practitioners who have information on IKS.

Ms van Wyk (NNP) asked whether it is possible to have an interface between research and the present use of indigenous knowledge.

Mr Mosimege stated that there is a need to bring all research together and to ensure that it is integrated into present use.

The Chairperson observed that it is essential to integrate historically White universities into the process, thus all 21 universities have to be involved in research. Empowerment of practitioners is important. Communities should be made aware of the significance of their knowledge.

The Chairperson inquired as to how the Committee would ensure that it pulls the different structures together. An overview would show that the practitioners are the poorest of the poor among the stakeholders; the question that arises is how to make sure that they participate in the process as equals to other structures. Of even greater importance is where does the Committee get funding to continue the process.

A motion for the Deputy Chairperson, Ms Tsheole, to set up a committee of two persons, to look at the three questions raised by the Chairperson was adopted. This committee was given a month to report back to the Portfolio Committee on its progress.

The meeting was adjourned.

Appendix 1:

The Indigenous Knowledge Systems Program is a program which was initiated jointly by the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology and the CSIR, started in 1996 as a research program at the CSIR. After the discussion and the conceptualisation of the idea, the CSIR then requested the University of The North to conduct a pilot of the audit of Indigenous Technologies. This commenced in December 1996, and the results of this pilot were presented at the university in a workshop which took place in February 1997. The results of this workshop gave an indication of the variety of indigenous technologies which were found in many of the communities in the Northern Province and on a very small scale in the Mpumalanga Province. It also set the stage to carry out similar audits throughout the rest of the South Africa in order to record the various indigenous technologies in existence throughout the country. Other universities were requested to carry out similar audits in other provinces and most of these took place during the university holidays either in December - January vacation or the Easter vacation. Some of the universities made a follow up to some of the communities during the university term when students and staff could combine this with their regular work. The universities have similarly run workshops over an average period of two days throughout 1998 to present their findings. In most instances, the presentations of the findings were done by the students with the guidance of their lecturers involved in the audit, but in some cases the Indigenous Technologists were also involved in both presentations and exhibitions of their work. The Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS) office at the CSIR together with the Inter-Provincial Operating Structure encouraged, wherever possible, incorporation of Indigenous Technologists as this afforded an opportunity for the Universities and Communities to work even more closely in IKS work and in the process built a rapport between the two groups of people.

Although by design this research program was located in Historically Disadvantaged Universities (HDU) , universities like the University of South Africa were also involved though collaboration and cooperation with one of the HDUs, Vista University - Mamelodi. At the National workshop on IKS in Mafikeng other universities - Historically Advantaged Universities - were also invited to share of their experiences in their involvement in research in IKS. The audit of indigenous knowledge program which has been managed at the CSIR involved a research team comprising an average number of 6 members of staff and a maximum number of 60 students at each of the universities involved. Due to the nature of the research project which is interdisciplinary, the staff and students were selected from a combination of faculties at each university, although this is left to the discretion of the research team member at each of the universities. However, most of the students participating in each of the projects were chosen mostly from the Faculty of Science. The leadership of the project at each universities was based in the following Departments, Sections and faculties as decided upon by each university:
University of Venda: Faculty of Science - Department of Chemistry
University of The North: Faculty of Science - Department of Biochemistry
University of The North West: Faculty of Science - Department of Chemistry
Vista University: Faculty of Management Sciences - Department of Economics
University of South Africa: Faculty of Education
University of The North - Qwaqwa Campus: faculty of Arts - Department of Geography
University of Zululand: Faculty of Science - Department of Agriculture
University of Transkei: Faculty of Arts
University of Fort Hare: Faculty of Arts - Cultural Centre.
The location of the leadership in the different faculties in the different universities brought a variety of approaches and richness to the audit that would have not been possible from one faculty.

The objectives of the research project were as follows:

• Identify different indigenous technologies in the different communities in South Africa and compile a record of these.

• Compile a national database of the technologies which could be updated at different stages when other related projects are engaged in.

• Explore and investigate these technologies to determine those that have potential to be developed into business enterprises for possible job creation.

• Assist the indigenous technologists and other community members in the development of the technologies into business enterprises.

• Establish a policy on the research and interaction with the different communities for the advancement of work on Indigenous Knowledge Systems.

• Establish legislation for the protection of Intellectual Property which will protect both the researchers and the community within which the research is done.

Other benefits which by the nature and design of the program were attained are:

• Capacity building for the students, the research team members in interacting with indigenous technologies and the communities from which the technologists come.

• Provide assistance for members of the communities in business development skills in relation to the different technologies.

• Training of members of staff and in some cases students in Microsoft Access Database.

• Training of students in research methods for interaction with communities.

3.1 Establishment of Committees in IKS
A number of committees have been established since the start of the IKS audit. These committees have served a variety of purposes in decision making. Their composition, although at times not inclusive of all the necessary stakeholders, has made it possible for many stakeholders to make a contribution to a variety of matters in IKS. Some of the committees have not been as active as others, and others have been hampered in their work by availability of funds. Some of the committees are still active, while others have been terminated after their work has been completed.

Two members of Executive at the CSIR; Chairperson of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee of Arts, Culture, Language, Science and Technology; IKS Program Manager at the CSIR.
Role: To make decisions relating to the Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS) around policy, strategy, operational, etc. This committee also acted as an Executive Committee of the National Steering Committee.
Status: Still existing, although not very active.

Representatives of the following Science Councils: CSIR - 3 members; HSRC, NRF; MRC - 2 members; ARC - 2 members; representative of the House of Traditional Leaders; Chairperson of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee for Arts, Culture Language, Science and Technology.
Role: This is the highest decisions making IKS. It deals mainly with policy, funding and strategic matters on IKS.
Status: Still active, although affecting by availability of funds. Discussions are going on between the different Science Councils to shoulder the financial requirements of the Committee.

The research team leaders of all the 9 universities involved in the audit, representatives from the following provinces: Free State, Mpumalanga, IKS Manager - CSIR; Chairperson of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee for Arts, Culture Language, Science and Technology.
Role: To discuss all the issues relating to the running of IKS in each university and province.
Status: Has not been operating since the beginning of April 1999 as its funding by the CSIR was discontinued. Discussions are still going on for the NRF to continue to fund its activities.


Membership: Members of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee of Arts Culture, Science and Technology; representatives from CSIR, ARC, and HSRC; State Legal Advisors; Representatives of related Portfolio Committees, Representatives of the Departments of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology and the Department of Environment and Tourism; Representatives from the House of Traditional Leaders. Other people were invited at different times to share expertise with the committee on matters in IKS.
Role: To debate issues around IKS and make suggestions and recommendations to the Steering Committee.

The committee ceased to exist after the National Workshop in IKS at the University of The North West in September 1998. However, there is a vacuum in terms of the activities of this committee and discussions are going on between my office and Dr Serote to revive the committee to fill the existing gap.


Membership: Local Organising Committee Members comprising IKS Research Team Leader, 3 members of staff at University of North West, 3 students who took part in the audit; CSIR representative in the North West Province; IKS Manager - CSIR; Representative of Policy Unit - CSIR; Representative of MRC; Representative of HSRC; Secretary of Steering Committee.
Role: To make all the necessary arrangements for the First National Workshop in IKS at the University of The North West.
Status: Ceased to exist after the National Workshop.


Membership: Representatives of the following Science Councils: CSIR, HSRC, NRF; Representatives of the following National Departments: Health; Arts, Culture, Language, Science and Technology; Foreign Affairs; Agriculture; Environment and Tourism; Trade and Industry; Chairperson of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee for Arts, Culture Language, Science and Technology.
Role: To advance the discussion on Policy in IKS and finalise the process for incorporation into each Departmental structure. The sub-committee reports directly to the Steering Committee.
Status: Still active, likely to complete its work by the end of 1999.

3.2 Provincial Workshops
Each of the Universities involved in the audit of the Knowledge Systems were required to conduct a workshop on the results of the audit which had been conducted in the provinces. This took place over a period of two or three days throughout 1998. At the moment the only university which has not yet conducted the workshop is the University of Fort Hare which is planning to do so in September 1999. The workshops which were attended by an average number of 80 participants, reported on the results obtained during the audits. The presentations covered the following:
(i) The different villages and communities visited for the audit ane the technologists interviewed.
(ii) The indigenous technologies found in the communities, including the uses or how the technologies were used.
(iii) The possibilities that may arise out of the uses of the technologies.
(iv) The technologies that have potential to be developed into business enterprises.
In all the presentation it was ensured that Intellectual Property Rights as they relate to indigenous technologies were not violated. In instances where there was a danger of revealing and in the process compromising the Rights, the presentations were adapted accordingly.

3.3 National Workshop
A national workshop in IKS was held at the University of The North West from 21 - 23 September 1998. The following stakeholders were represented: Universities - staff and students; Science Councils; Government Departments; Technologists; Members of Parliament; International Guests. The National Workshop covered, among others the following:
• Discussion of the Policy on IKS.
• Discussion of Legislative Mechanisms in IKS
• Active involvement of the different stakeholders in the promotion and protection of intellectual property in IKS.
• Closer and appropriate working relations between indigenous technologists and the different researchers in IKS.
• Development of different technologies into SMMEs for the purpose of creating jobs for the majority of South Africans.
• Improvement of skills to be used in indigenous technologies.
• Active involvement of other different National Departments in the advancement of work in IKS.
• Plans for Regional collaboration (Southern Africa) and plans to hold a Regional Conference were made.
A report of the workshop is available, although the Proceedings are still outstanding. The host of the workshop who has since moved from the University of The North West has promised these in the near future.

3.4 National Database
Each university which took part in the audit of Indigenous Technologies was required to compile a Database of all the technologies that were found during the audit. Microsoft Access Database was used for this purpose as this was the database which had been used by the university which conducted the pilot. The IKS Programme at the CSIR funded the training of members of staff from the different universities on the Database as part of capacity building. At present the MIKOMTEK Division is compiling the databases from the universities together into a National Database. When this process is through - it is envisaged to be through in September - then the National Steering Committee will be given an opportunity to analyse it. After this it will be made available to the Divisions at the CSIR and the Universities (either jointly or separately) that participated in the audit for further analysis for possible business enterprises. Wherever issues of Intellectual Property Rights are encountered the communities and technologists from which the data was collected will be consulted. This database will also be updated continuously from a variety of research projects that will be undertaken by different researchers.

3.5 Coordination of IKS activities in South Africa
The IKS Programme has, since it started in 1996, brought together a variety of stakeholders to work together on different aspects thereof. As pointed out in Section 3.1 above, those Science Councils that have been working in various aspects of IKS (ARC, HSRC, MRC, NRF) have been working together in different committees on work in IKS. At the National Workshop at the University of The North West a report of all IKS activities at each of the Science Councils was reported on by the President of the MRC. In addition, a committee of IKS champions at the different Science Councils has been formed to find ways in which they can be more actively involved in IKS. This committee reports to the Heads of Science Councils which in turn reports to the Steering Committee.

Attempts have been made since the National Workshop to bring together both Historically Disadvantaged Universities (HDUs) and Historically Advantaged Universities (HAUs) for cooperation in work in IKS. Until the workshop focus had been on HDUs as they are the ones that were approached to conduct the audit. Bringing together of all the major research institutions acknowledges the following:
- IKS research has been going on in South Africa over many years and can't be ignored
- If the current thinking in IKS is taken into account, particularly as it relates to the Policy and Legislation in IKS which protects and takes into account the contribution and knowledge of the Indigenous Technologists, then whoever is doing work in IKS needs to brought into the current thinking lest s/he violates these principles.
The process of cooperation of all the Universities and Science Councils will be pursued further after consultations between the Steering Committee and the NRF have taken place. Exploratory meetings are still going on.

3.6 Development of Policy and Legislation in IKS
It has been necessary to develop a policy that would clarify various aspects of IKS. In the same way it has not been easy to work with Indigenous Technologists as they feared that they will be subjected to exploitation that most have experienced throughout their lives. For the purpose of the protection of the knowledge of the Technologists it has been necessary to put Legislation in place that will to a greater extent safeguard this knowledge. For this purpose individual members of the Technical Committee (see Section 3.1 above) with expertise in the two areas were given the task of working on the two documents.

3.6.1 Draft Discussion Document on Policy in IKS
A Draft Discussion Document on Policy in IKS has been developed by a members of the Policy Unit at the CSIR on behalf of the steering Committee. This document outlines the Policy in IKS, defining what is meant by Indigenous Knowledge Systems and outlining all the International Agreements that have an impact on IKS. It also suggests future structures that would possibly be put in place for the administration of IKS activities. At present this committee is being looked after by a committee as described in Section 3.1

3.6.2 Draft Legislation for the Protection of Intellectual Property in IKS
A Draft Legislation for the Protection of Intellectual Property in IKS has been developed. This process was led by members of the Technical Committee with legal background. It (the document) outlines all matters relating to protection and the legal steps to be taken when the regulations are violated. At present the document is undergoing further discussion by different stakeholders and is intended to be introduced in Parliament in the next Parliamentary session.

Report prepared by
Mogege Mosimege
Manager: Indigenous Knowledge Systems



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