2004-12-13 14:54:00
Embassy Pretoria
Cable title:  

South Africa recognizes, supports and

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E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: South Africa recognizes, supports and
protects Indigenous Knowledge Systems

REF: A) PRETORIA 4519; B) 03 PRETORIA 1904




E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: South Africa recognizes, supports and
protects Indigenous Knowledge Systems

REF: A) PRETORIA 4519; B) 03 PRETORIA 1904

1. Summary. South Africa continues to support the
protection and development of Indigenous Knowledge
Systems (IKS) through a variety of government and
private efforts. In the late 1990s, the new South
African Government encouraged deeper investigation
into IKS through research projects and surveys. The
Department of Science and Technology (DST) funds a
variety of IKS research projects and has also
established a unit to coordinate the programs. DST,
in collaboration with research institutions,
universities, traditional healers, private companies
and local communities formulated a national IKS
policy, which provides IKS with legal recognition and
protection. Several stakeholders are establishing
partnerships to utilize IKS for broader economic and
social development. Constructive and potentially
significant partnerships have also emerged between
western-trained scientists and traditional healers.
End summary.

Revival of IKS in South Africa

2. Indigenous knowledge (IK) is local, often
community-based knowledge unique to traditional
cultures and societies. IK is used in agriculture,
education, natural resource management, health care
and numerous other activities. This report reviews
the increasing interest in Indigenous Knowledge
Systems (IKS) in South Africa and highlights policy
and program activities of key players in IKS. The
consensus among IKS experts is that the former chair
of the parliamentary portfolio committee on Arts,
Culture, Science, Language and Technology, Dr. Wally
Serote, is the "father of IKS" in South Africa.
During his tenure in parliament Serote called on
government and research institutions to recognize the
significance of IKS and challenged them to develop
mechanisms to protect it. Dr. Serote argued that IK
needed to be explored further to determine its
contribution to local development and its future

potential. According to Dr. Serote, appropriate
recognition of IKS will contribute to the broader
development of the African continent.

3. Serote urged western-trained intellectuals to
acknowledge IKS in spite of its possibly unfamiliar
fundamentals, references or logic. He argued that
science and technology is not the exclusive property
of industrialized societies. Partnerships are
necessary between IK practitioners and western
trained intellectuals to explore and unearth the
maximum potential of the IKS.

SAG's growing commitment to IKS development and
-------------- --------------

4. Government Science Councils began serious
investigation into IKS following Parliamentary
discussions prompted by Dr. Serote and a subsequent
meeting of academics on IKS in mid-1996. The Council
for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR),
National Research Foundation (NRF) and the Human
Sciences Research Council (HSRC),in partnership with
nine historically disadvantaged universities,
collected data on existing IKS in local communities.

5. A research pilot project was conducted in the
then Northern (Limpopo) Province at the end of 1997.
The project identified students across university
faculties and trained them on how to identify
indigenous technologies, methods of recording them,
as well as village protocols. Following the
completion of these IKS audits, the government held a
national workshop on IKS in 1998. Over time,
universities and science councils supported more
research projects in IKS. Students collected data on
housing and medical IKS technologies to study them
and evaluate their possible development and
enhancement. This research was coordinated and
funded through the CSIR, which cataloged the acquired
information. Since 2000, DST has allocated R10
million per year to the NRF for funding IKS research
projects. Through June 2004, 256 grants for IKS
activities have been awarded.

6. The newly-appointed Minister of Science and
Technology, Dr. Mosibudi Mangena, told participants
in a SADC IKS workshop in June 2004 that DST is
giving IKS policy and legislation formulation top
priority. His department has established an inter-
departmental IKS committee, funded research grants
through the NRF and provided financial support to the
Indigenous Knowledge Systems of South Africa Trust.
The department's approach is designed to raise
awareness, as well as promote development,
partnerships, poverty alleviation and the sustainable
use of resources. DST is also developing a framework
to establish a Traditional Knowledge Data Library.

Policy formulation and multi-departmental cooperation
-------------- --------------

7. In an IKS briefing to Parliament in November
2004, Dr. Mosimege spelled out the key "drivers" of
IKS policy in South Africa. First South Africa is
affirming African cultural values in the face of
globalization. Development of IKS supports the
"African renaissance" and helps to redress apartheid-
era institutions and policies that equated IK with
backwardness. IKS policy secondly intends to develop
services provided by traditional healers, who play a
critical role in local communities. The third driver
is the potential contribution that IKS can make to
the national economy in terms of job creation,
poverty alleviation and technology transfer.
Finally, IKS provides key linkages to other knowledge

8. Dr. Mosimege told EST Assistant that since 1996
the SAG has been developing an IKS policy framework.
In 1999, the SAG established a Ministerial task team
to formulate IKS policy and draft legislation.
Because IKS involves crosscutting issues, forging a
national IKS strategy and developing related
legislation is a complicated task. As a result, IKS
has been addressed in policies and legislation of
various other departments.

9. For example, the Department of Environmental
Affairs and Tourism drafted the Biodiversity Act, a
chapter of which regulates the collection and use of
indigenous plants and the equitable sharing of
profits. DST contributed to the IKS-related language
in the Act. DST is cooperating with the Department
of Trade and Industry on Intellectual Property Rights
(IPR) matters, including the draft Patents Amendment
Bill of 2004. The bill proposes to empower the
Registrar of Patents to refuse granting of patents in
cases where the application does not disclose the
origin of genetic or biological resources. In cases
involving patents based on IK, the bill would
restrict patents unless there is disclosure of the
origin of the traditional knowledge used in the
patent invention, and prior informed consent of
indigenous people possessing such knowledge.

10. DST has also worked with the Department of
Health in drafting the Traditional Health
Practitioners Bill (Ref A) passed in September 2004.
The new law recognizes traditional healers as
healthcare professionals and regulates the industry.
Under the law, the government will support the
educational and training needs of the practitioners,
will provide protection for IK, and will allow
traditional healers to participate in medical aid
reimbursement programs.

11. DST also has policy and working relationships
with nine other departments that constitute the multi-
departmental committee on IKS. The SAG has finalized
an IKS policy document to deal with recognition,
protection and the development of the IKS. Cabinet
adopted the policy document, which now awaits

NRF and IKS - Project support

12. Sekamotho Mthembu, an NRF official, told EST
Assistant that DST provides funding for IKS projects
and NRF administers the funding and solicits
proposals for projects. The approved proposals
comply with specific guidelines on production,
transmission, and utilization of Indigenous Knowledge
and technologies. The proposals have to be
consistent with the Poverty Relief Program of the
DST, which aims to empower rural communities and add
value to available local resources. The research
themes include traditional medicine and health, food
systems, socio-cultural systems, arts, crafts and
materials. Mthembu said that although the NRF does
not direct the subject of research, it sets high
research standards. The quality and excellence of
the proposals and the researchers' expertise are the
determining factors for project selection. The NRF
received 57 proposals by July in 2004.

CSIR and IKS: Bio-prospecting, poverty alleviation
and partnerships
-------------- --------------

13. Dr. Marthinus Horak is the head of the Bio-
prospecting unit at the CSIR. He stressed to EST
Assistant that South Africa is endowed with a robust
biodiversity of over 23,000 plant species,
representing 10 percent of the entire plant world.
There are also approximately 200,000 traditional
healers in South Africa, many of whom possess strong
indigenous knowledge and skills. The country also
has a fast-developing science and technology sector.
The CSIR intends to coordinate among stakeholders,
including researchers, private sector, traditional
healers and local communities, so that all can derive
optimum benefits from the resources and share them

14. According to Dr. Horak, traditional healers
approached the CSIR in 1997 seeking assistance to
bring modern technology into traditional healing and
to add value to traditional knowledge through
scientific evaluation of medicines. The parties
established collaborations in 1998. CSIR has worked
with about 200 traditional healers through a ten-
member committee representing the country's nine
provinces. Dr. Horak considers these traditional
healers to be forward-looking and working to rectify
the misconception that all traditional healers are
"witch doctors." Healers also want to raise
awareness about their contribution in keeping South
Africans healthy, and seek valid recognition from the
government and the public.

15. CSIR's partnerships combine scientific know-how
and Indigenous Knowledge in an effort to develop
products for various uses, including fragrances,
pharmaceuticals and pesticides. For example, reftel
B reported on development of an appetite suppressant
from a desert plant hoodia, used by the San tribes.
Although multinational drug company Pfizer pulled out
of the effort due to corporate reprioritization, CSIR
continues to develop this project, and the San people
will receive benefits from the royalties.

16. The Bio-prospecting unit is also pursuing
development of eight other plant products including a
mosquito repellent. Dr. Horak reports that if all
goes well, the products could offer up to 100%
effectiveness, well above existing competing
products. The CSIR is also working with communities
in agro-processing programs, establishing organic
farms and medicinal farms for poverty alleviation.
CSIR first helps ensure a market for a product and
then establishes a company. CSIR also provides
mentoring in technical and managerial skills for the
community, and then exits once the community members
are able to manage the venture on their own.

17. Local studies show that 80 percent of South
Africans, especially in the rural areas, rely on
relatively inexpensive and easily accessible
traditional medicine as primary health care. The SAG
hopes for joint development with western scientists
of traditional medicines into drugs that can
contribute to treatment of HIV/AIDS and malaria. The
Medical Research Council (MRC),CSIR and the
University of Pretoria are working in partnership
with traditional healers to draw active compounds
from medicinal plants. They will establish the
scientific basis and provide clinical validation of
the traditional remedies.

National body promotes IKS development

18. Indigenous Knowledge Systems of South Africa
(IKSSA) is an independent, DST-funded non-
governmental organization established in 2002.
Representing over 800 traditional healers, IKSSA
advocates for IKS, and protects and promotes
intellectual property for IKS. Dr. Mogomme Masoga,
Research Manager at IKSSA, told EST Assistant that
his institution seeks to raise awareness about IKS
and engage willing partners in projects. IKSSA wants
to be seen as a link between African development and
NEPAD structures on IKS. IKSSA has a resource center
housing IKS materials in the form of research
articles, books, newspaper clips and visual tapes.
IK practitioners, researchers and the public have
access to the materials.

Regional cooperation - NEPAD conference

19. IKS is receiving greater attention at regional
and continental levels. The Southern African
Development Community (SADC) and New Partnership for
African Development (NEPAD) science and technology
conference held in Maputo in June 2004, allocated one
day to discuss IKS issues, and the discussions
recommended possible workshops in Tanzania or Zambia
in 2005. Tanzania has reportedly approached the World
Bank to discuss potential funding for IKS projects
for the benefit of the region.


20. The South African Government takes IKS very
seriously. IKS projects involving partnerships
between western trained scientist and IK users have
significant potential to contribute to innovative
research, poverty reduction at the community level,
and more effective drugs to combat widespread