Indigenous Knowledge Systems Documentation Centre – a Mouthful of Heritage!

The national Department of Science & Technology has a specific directorate (Knowledge Management Systems) managing and documenting indigenous knowledge. The Western Cape Indigenous Knowledge Systems Documentation Centre (IKSDC) was previously managed by a Not for Profit agency and, as of 2018, had been transferred to CPUT under the aegis of the Agrifood Technology Station. The Western Cape IKSDC (as it is known) is one of 10 in the country (one in each of 8 provinces and two in Kwazulu Natal).

The IKSDC is a flat structure in terms of personnel i.e. a Manager (myself) and a Coordinator, the latter being appointed as of 1st March 2019 (Ms. Mbali Dlamini). The latter person is the key practitioner and works closely with the Directorate: Knowledge Management Systems and different communities as they are identified. The Manager and a Steering Committee largely plays an oversight role and the project will be monitored through the DST M&E unit related to this.

Considering that ATS is a latecomer to the game, systems and activities are still being put in place or enacted. One leg of the project is to re-visit a community in the Oudtshoorn area which was  survey in the last three years. This visit is to tie up loose ends and to re-collect data that did not live up to expectations in terms of its integrity.

Regarding the concept, collection and protection of such data, you could refer to an article put out by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) dealing with attitudes to indigenous knowledge or how UWC is mainstreaming this concept in the curriculum. Another interesting article is that in the Mail & Guardian (February 2018).

Why is ATS dabbling with the concept of indigenous knowledge? Well may you ask! Keep in mind that indigenous knowledge takes on many different forms e.g. food, plants, medicine, arts & culture, storytelling, etc. It is obvious that food would be uppermost in mind in relation to ATS and the Department of Food Science & Technology. However, there is also common ground with all the other types of knowledge at CPUT and other institutions of learning. Medicine in particular – CPUT (via the Department of Horticultural Sciences) are working in this area. So too the Department of Biomedical Sciences and the Oxidative Stress Research Centre.

Keep in mind that the idea of information collection and protection is to ensure that any beneficiation related to this knowledge should include benefits for the owners of the knowledge in one way or the other. Examples of where this went wrong are the Hoodia gordonii incident and also rooibos (Aspalathus linearis). If it is done correctly, the data collected can then be used to drive innovation in the different fields to the benefit of all involved. It is expected that the family of Technology Stations in the country should be at the forefront of this beneficiation and technology development.

Finally, since this project in its entirety deals with people and communities, managing this process requires exceptional adherence to ethical practices, good communications and relationship management. ATS look forward to being part of this process as the project matures.