Indigenous Knowledge Systems: Department briefing

Arts and Culture

09 November 2004
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Meeting report

8 November 2004

Chairperson: Mr S Tsenoli (ANC)

Documents handed out:

Department PowerPoint presentation: Indigenous Knowledge Systems Policy

The Committee heard a briefing on Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS). The Department of Science and Technology informed Members that an IKS policy had been developed and an interdepartmental committee had been set up. That Committee would look at means of utilising research done by universities and science councils, and ways to patent natural remedies for the benefit of Indigenous people. Members asked questions of clarification but there was little discussion.

Dr M Mosimege. Manager: Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS) in the Department of Science and Technology, reported that in 1996, the then Department of Science had commissioned the University of the North to do research on IKS in Limpopo and Mpumalanga. A feedback workshop had been held where participants had decided to include nine other universities in all provinces.

He explained that many people in the developing world had evolved ways of best utilising natural products, such as herbs and plants for medicines, or using mud to make bricks. Policy had been developed in South Africa and an interdepartmental Committee had been set up to look into ways of utilising research by universities and science councils. Traditional leaders, healers and clan elders were some of the 'reservoirs' of IKS.

Internationally, IKS had been referred to in different terms. India referred to IKS as Traditional Knowledge Systems. India had tried to challenge patent rights for their indigenours Basmati rice but the American patent holder had not relinquished the rights. Countries like China, India, and Brazil had established digital libraries to be used for proper documentation of IKS and patent rights.

The University of Cape Town had been working with traditional healers in compiling a database of traditional medicines. About 80% of people in developing countries used traditional medicine, which was worth around US$32 billion in health supplies. Policy formulation on IKS had been aimed at affirming cultural values in the face of globalisation, and the promotion of regional co-operation in Southern Africa because of shared cultures. Economic benefits of IKS had the potential to address poverty.

Dr Mosimege highlighted the need to involve the private sector, elders, and traditional leaders to develop an integrated approach. Women were also great resource. For instance, most rural Ndebele women had no mathematical training but Ndebele murals involved complex geometric concepts. Therefore IKS could be used to tap into that knowledge and perhaps develop 'indigenous maths'.

Various government departments would have to play a role and form a task-team, Interfacing IKS with other systems and science councils. There was a need to develop funding streams to finance IKS in conjunction the National Research Foundation. They would also strive to integrate IKS into the school curriculum. Furthermore, the development of a broad communication strategy would include the oral tradition, museums and libraries. Developed countries had exploited IKS through patents to the detriment of countries where IKS had evolved.

DiscussionMr L Zitha (ANC) asked who would benefit from IKS, because generally IKS belonged to everyone in that particular area in which it had evolved. Dr Mosemege replied that the first step would be documentation, after which it would be clear would benefit.

Mr Sonto (ANC) asked how knowledge holders were compensated. Dr Mosemege replied that any benefit accrued after research should be directed to the knowledge holder/s.

Mr L Gololo enquired if 'black magic' fell within the domain of IKS. Dr Mosemege said that he was no expert. The previous Minister of Science had had a particular interest in the allegations that lightning was an instrument of witchcraft, particularly in Limpopo province.
The meeting was adjourned.



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