PROTECTING AFRICA'S SPECIAL KNOWLEDGE
September 16, 1998
By Pamela Dube, Political Reporter
Johannesburg - For centuries Western scientists have come to Africa in search of indigenous medicine - and instead of crediting the continent's intellectuals, the West has always laid claim to such "discoveries". This may soon be history if a three-day national workshop on Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS), which starts next Monday in Mafikeng, achieves the necessary policy framework for the protection of African intellectual systems.
Chairman of the parliamentary portfolio committee on arts, science and technology, Dr Wally Serote has said that the workshop's 200 participants would come up with a proposal to be drafted into the Bill on the Protection and Promotion of South African Indigenous Knowledge.
For the past few months, Serote said, several Government institutions and universities have engaged in pilot studies to determine what indigenous knowledge systems are.
Such systems could be found in the areas of engineering, farming practices, soil and water conservation and food products.
They are also in fermentation techniques, food storage, medicine products such as plant and animal derivatives, indigenous methods of energy (cooking and heating), arts, crafts and musical instruments.
It is hoped that the workshop - that will also bring participants from as far afield as Brazil and other Southern African Development Community states - will find ways of protecting such technologies and knowledges against Western exploitation. "Maybe we should look at ways of revisiting the copyright laws as it regards the protection of our communities against international pharmaceutical companies," Serote said.
An example of this is the so-called Devil's Claw (known as Sengaparile in the Kalahari desert). Sengaparile has been in circulation for many year in tablet form for general ailments. But no financial benefits and recognition have gone to the communities who discovered the medicinal qualities of this natural vegetation.
Serote said one of the intentions of coming up with protection policies was to ensure that "our indigenous communities do get the intellectual knowledge recognition as well as revenue".
Copyright Â© 1998 The Sowetan. Distributed via Africa News Online