Opening speech for the TCI Conference on Indigenous Knowledge System delivered by Minister of Science and Technology, honourable Mr M Mangena
26 July 2006
It gives me great pleasure this morning to be here among an array of experts, scientists, holders and practitioners of Indigenous Knowledge System (IKS) on the occasion of a historic conference and to present the keynote address. It is always a pleasure for me to interact with those who have contributed substantially to bolster indigenous knowledge in this country. It is an important occasion when experts of IKS come together on one platform to share thoughts and visions about IKS and more importantly, about the central theme of the workshop namely “Protecting Indigenous Knowledge Systems.”
It is always important to be reminded that endeavours such as this conference is not an end in itself. The conference on the protection of indigenous knowledge must remind Africans that they must take responsibility for their own fate and chart an African development path. The quest for an African rebirth should be driven by the following principles:
(1) the art and quality of being human, i.e. ubuntu,
(2) the promotion of indigenous African heritage and
(3) the promotion of Africa and its people.
The protection and promotion of African indigenous knowledge systems will contribute to the task of charting an African development path. IKS gives us the keys to self-discovery and true emancipation which are prerequisites to human creativity and action. The potential role of indigenous knowledge in releasing the human creativity and innovation should be tapped for the realisation of Africa’s reconstruction. This conference has the challenge of coming up with ways of realising the potential of IKS for reconstruction and the combating of poverty.
African indigenous knowledge is central to the concept of an African Renaissance. It is the knowledge system that informs how African society functions and interacts with people and societies; it provides the founding motivator for people’s actions and the knowledge base for learning and Africa’s sustainable development.
Ladies and gentlemen: you aware that Cabinet in 2004 adopted the IKS policy signalling a defining moment in the lives of indigenous and local communities. The policy therefore, in its entity endeavours to contribute to the consolidation of our constitutional democracy and the improvement of the lives, dignity and equality of our indigenous and local communities by giving concrete expression to the recognition, promotion, development and protection of indigenous knowledge systems. It is envisioned that the policy will be the enabling instrument for indigenous and local communities to exercise their sovereign and inalienable rights, over their indigenous knowledge and related intellectual and cultural knowledge.
A momentous implementation of key imperative of the policy is the recent establishment of the national office on IKS or NIKSO. NIKSO is constituted of three programmatic strands namely advocacy and policy development, knowledge development and knowledge management.
What I would like to indicate at this juncture is that with the establishment of NIKSO it has positioned South Africa on the threshold of a new era of growth. The growth engine for this new dawn is knowledge development and knowledge management. There is no denying the fact that the knowledge of individuals and the collective knowledge of communities are the only real competitive advantages that any country can rely upon to develop. Given our diversity and the varying levels of economic and social development, the technological needs of our country are also diverse. The challenge before us is to bring about synergy in our actions in terms of indigenous and western knowledge, so that knowledge generation and utilisation benefits all segments of our society without causing disparities or lopsided development. This is why government has placed a great degree of emphasis on the implementation of the IKS policy which will significantly protect, develop and promote IKS and will help improve livelihoods and economic well-being to communities by ensuring equitable and fair benefit sharing.
The most obvious truth is that to recognise indigenous knowledge system on its own terms, we indeed have to mainstream IKS. NIKSO is strongly committed in rolling out a robust advocacy and public awareness strategy. The quintessential issues of concern that require policy advocacy is the need to integrate IKS with other knowledge systems. The mainstreaming of IKS in National System of Innovation (NSI) will considerably change the landscape. Another crucial challenge for NIKSO is to strategically embed IKS within the NSI. This will necessarily entail establishing partnerships with Research and Development (R&D) institutions, Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), Trusts and Science Councils.
I am pleasantly informed that the strategy also proposes some specific intervention such as hosting a national IKS public awareness week and hosting a competition for the best Indigenous Knowledge (IK) projects for poverty alleviation amongst other exciting and creative projects. It is well recognised that the proposed priority outcomes of the public awareness campaign requires a joint venture between you as key stakeholders and NIKSO. I therefore humbly plead with you to be joint partners in the rollout process of the campaign.
As I have already mentioned one of the fundamental principles in IKS is knowledge development which must be rooted within National Systems of Innovation (NSI). The NIKSO therefore pledges to establish an advisory committee to advise the Minister on how to best mainstream IKS. One of the priority areas that the Committee will advise on is the protection of knowledge developed on IKS. The Department is in the process of establishing IKS centres, chairs and laboratories. These institutions will form part of the main knowledge development entities in South Africa.
It is also critical that as you deliberate on these issues, you bear in mind the importance of developing and protecting new epistemologies. As scholars or researchers, I urge you to be sensitive to the rich knowledge that is preserved within our communities. Be equal partners in developing it further together with holders and practitioners. This should be done in light of building capacity among our people in order to generate adequate human capital for economic development and improved quality of life.
I would like to call to your attention those IK holders and practitioners who are giving birth to valuable products in the country. These include medicines and healing modalities, jewellery and different articles of adornment and decoration, art, literature, music, entrepreneurship, food security, methods of investigation, etc. Embedded in the lives of these IK holders is a wealth of knowledge that needs to be well nourished, documented and disseminated. This information is crucial for generating further research questions. This will then inform policy and various intervention strategies for sustainable development.
The NIKSO is committed to co-ordinating various efforts in full collaboration with IK holders and practitioners, researchers, IKS chairs, non-governmental organisations (NGOS), community-based organisations (CBOs), government departments and our regional and international partners. NIKSO is sensitive towards developing and implementing IK and IKS ownership processes in South Africa. Without any apology, NIKSO is dedicated to ensuring that Interface Products (IP), patent and issues including benefit sharing are fully implemented.
These discussions require full participation of the owners of this knowledge and the systems involved. I trust that meetings of this nature will in the future involve various knowledge holders from different areas of expertise so that they can speak for themselves. This is one of the universal principles for ensuring that IK protection and processes involved are developed and managed by the owners of the knowledge.
I now turn the focus to the central theme of the conference namely the Protection of Indigenous Knowledge Systems (PIKS). The focus on protection of IK heralds a long overdue move by government to recognise IKS. In accentuating the importance of IKS, government has targeted the redressing of imbalanced legacies through the provision of Acts and policies. I am pleasantly informed that the amendments to the Patent Act have been approved. Under these amendments mandatory disclosure requirements exists which empowers the Registrar of Patents to:
* refuse the granting of patents based on biological or genetic materials if the origin of such materials is not disclosed
* refuse the granting of patents based on indigenous knowledge, but there is no disclosure as to the origin of such indigenous knowledge
* refuse the granting of patents based on indigenous knowledge, but there is no prior informed consent from the indigenous people possessing such knowledge
* refuse the granting of patents based on indigenous knowledge, if co-ownership, control, use and benefit sharing arrangements are not in place
* rescind the patent on own accord if it is later discovered that the aforementioned issues were not entertained or there was an element of misrepresentation or fraud on the part of the patentee.
This piece of legislation developed by the Department of Trade and Industry affirms indigenous and local communities as the true owners of their knowledge and that disputes over rights to the acquisition and commercialisation application of this knowledge is resolved in accordance with the regulations currently developed by the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism in compliance with chapter six of the Biodiversity Act. In the context of these regulations the degree to which indigenous and local communities receive fair and equitable benefits will depend on the extent to which:
* they are fully informed about the commercial value of their knowledge and about the potential commercial value of their knowledge and about the legal consequences of any agreements they may make with outsiders.
Ladies and gentlemen, you can observe that it is not only the Department of Science and Technology but other government departments that are legitimising indigenous knowledge on its terms by creating authoritative enabling environments for the internal development and articulation of all domains of IKS.
However, international agreements under the United Nations (UN) agencies that have contributed thus far to the evolution of intellectual property-style protections for indigenous and local knowledge do not “finish the job.” Therefore, as government for the immediate future the focus regarding the protection for indigenous and local knowledge will have to shift to the level of domestic legislation and policymaking.
Distinguished participants, ladies and gentleman, I truly believe that the only way to solve the challenges allude to above is to engender a common determination and a genuine desire to co-operate closely. The starting point is to believe that it is fair to give protection to IK. With this common belief, we will be able to use property laws to protect our common heritage in the form of IK. We are also witnessing common attempts at international fora to protect indigenous knowledge in the form of international instruments. With these collective efforts IK will surely be protected from exploitation, misuse and misappropriation. The knowledge workers should not relax they need to double up their efforts to develop, manage and protect indigenous knowledge. It calls for vigilance and urgency of purpose.
In closing I would like once again to thank you for giving me this opportunity to address you this morning. I hope that you will address and debate some of these ideas in the thematic groups over the next few days. I also hope that this historic meeting will provide you with opportunities to establish professional and other links and networks that are so essential to the central theme of the workshop. I wish you great success in your deliberations and I will definitely through NIKSO make a point of following up on your recommendations.
Issued by: Department of Science and Technology
26 July 2006