Traditional Birth Attendants (TBA) gathered at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s UNITE Building, Howard College Campus, on Wednesday, for a two-day conference on the mainstreaming and professionalisation of their discipline. PHOTO: DST

South Africa’s traditional leadership structures were the custodians of customary values and it was expected that indigenous knowledge (IK) would soon be mainstreamed and viewed as a professional discipline, a conference on Traditional Birth Attendants (TBA).

The first of its kind since the country’s move to a democratic dispensation, the conference is being hosted by the department of science and technology in partnership with the University of KwaZulu-Natal, which also provided the venue for the two-day event. 

“The participation of the traditional leadership and indigenous knowledge practitioners at this conference in advancement of indigenous knowledge as a domain in its own right is of great significance, and we highly appreciate in particular the support of both the national and the provincial house of traditional leadership,” said Dr Mlungisi Cele during his opening address.

Cele is the head of the National Advisory Council on Innovation (NACI). The NACI council is appointed to advise the minister and cabinet on the role and contribution of science, maths, innovation and technology – including indigenous technologies – in the promotion and achievement of national goals.

The conference was attended by scores of TBA practitioners, traditional leaders, senior government representatives, researchers and scholars.

“It is widely known that indigenous knowledge has always been and continues to be the primary factor in the survival and welfare of the majority of South Africans who live in local and rural areas. Equally so, the practice of TBAs still plays a significant part in the lives of many local and rural communities, and still continues to suffer widespread marginalisation,” said Cele.

He said the conference served as a platform for TBAs across all cultures to share their knowledge and experience on the prospects and challenges they faced as a discipline of competence (DOC).

“In addition, sharing knowledge across cultures also serves as a mechanism for recognising the services of this discipline of competence in the traditional birth attendants’ space. This conference in particular brings together the government and the knowledge practitioners - best known as Traditional Birth Attendants - to discuss such appraisals and prospects related to this knowledge domain and in particular as a profession.”

In 2004, the government declared its intention to affirm, develop, promote and protect indigenous knowledge systems (IKS) in South Africa through the IKS policy.

Most recently, the department developed the protection, promotion, development and management of indigenous knowledge bill, which is waiting assent by President Cyril Ramaphosa.

The Bill makes provision for the recognition of the competencies of IK holders and practitioners, which includes TBAs.

Cele said that further to this, the recently adopted white paper on science technology and innovation (STI) by cabinet aimed to ensure a growing role for STI through building a more prosperous and inclusive society to boost economic development and inclusive growth.

“When considering indigenous knowledge, the very nature of IKS suggests that it is a fertile ground for innovation, for example, IK systems are typically human-centred, very diverse, applying technology of local origin with strong cross-linkages.

“The white paper policy interventions also emphasise the development of knowledge, skills and resources, towards addressing our country’s developmental needs,” said Cele.

The conference continues on Thursday, with norms and standards for the recognition of TBAs to be discussed.

- African News Agency (ANA)