Protection of Indigenous Knowledge Systems under the spotlight at IKS International Conference 2018

Department of Science and Technology Minister, Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane

The second international Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS) conference kicked off Heritage Month last week by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) Minister, Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane under the theme, "Protecting indigenous knowledge towards socio-economic development".

Hosted in partnership with the DST and the North-West University, Kubayi-Ngubane said one of the purposes of the conference was to undo the damage that was caused by the apartheid government which left out indigenous communities while discussing their heritage.

“Knowledge produced by indigenous communities was, for the longest of time, regarded as no knowledge at all. Indigenous people were mocked and regarded as inferior, with no ability to have or need to preserve their knowledge systems. This is one of the areas which, if you explore it, you will see the extent of damage the apartheid government did to the majority of the people of this country,” she said.

Although much progress has been made like the adaptation and acceptance of IKS into the larger scientific enterprise, Kubayi-Ngubani admits that challenges still remain.

The Minister therefore mentioned that it is for this reason that the call for decolonisation seeks to make a submission that the validation of knowledge is not so much its place of origin as it is its capacity to advance human life and civilisation, and that human ingenuity invariably responds to the immediate needs of specific communities.

“The decolonisation of knowledge does not consist of denying other knowledge. Instead, it demands that we make the knowledge enterprise inclusive and sincere in the sense that it must acknowledge that it is open to both challenge and improvement from all corners of the globe, and therefore is not and cannot possibly be the final state of knowing,” she said.

The three-day event which was attended by local IK holders and stakeholders from Brazil, Germany, Jamaica, Nigeria and Uruguay comes under the backdrop of the approval by Parliament of the Protection, Promotion, Development and Management of Indigenous Knowledge (IK) Bill. The legislation seeks to provide legal protection for knowledge generated and owned by communities, including medical practices, the production of food products, cultural expressions, songs and designs. It is expected to go a long way towards placing communities at the centre of the process of commercialising indigenous knowledge.

Moreover, the bill is also said to recognise the transdisciplinary nature of indigenous knowledge – which will make it necessary for researchers, academics, business and policymakers to work in an integrated manner on issues such as food security, agriculture, and conservation of the environment, sustainable development, education, as well as cultural and biological diversity. 

“This is just one of our strategic focuses towards ensuring that IK holders’ and practitioners’ skills, experiences, learning and practices are legally recognised. Processes are under way to make this a reality,” the Minister said.