TRADITIONAL health practitioner Ephraim Mabena explains how his medication works during this year’s Indigenous Knowledge Systems International Conference at Protea Hotel Fire and Ice in Menlyn. Bongani Shilubane/African News Agency (ANA)
CALLS for communities to protect indigenous knowledge were intensified by traditional healers, cultural activists, academics and government officials attending a three-day international conference on indigenous knowledge systems.

The event, hosted by the Department of Science and Technology and North West University in Menlyn, ends today.

The conference is aimed at promoting indigenous knowledge with a view to achieving socio-economic development in the country.

Keynote speaker Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane told at least 250 delegates that the Protection of Indigenous Knowledge Bill, which is waiting to be signed into law by President Cyril Ramaphosa, would go a long way towards recognising knowledge owned by local communities.

“The primary objective of the bill is to facilitate the protection of indigenous knowledge, and the restoration and recognition of indigenous knowledge relating to, and owned by, the indigenous communities of South Africa.

“The bill will provide South Africa and the region with an opportunity to protect indigenous knowledge and cultural heritage,” she said.

One of the strategic focus areas of the bill was the development of a regulatory policy framework for the accreditation and certification of indigenous knowledge holders and practitioners, she said.

“The value of interfacing and mainstreaming indigenous knowledge within the national systems of innovation will directly improve the quality of life of communities through wealth-creation initiatives,” she said.

Mamelodi-based traditional healer Ephraim Mabena said the struggle by indigenous people to reclaim stolen knowledge about some medicinal plants had to be intensified. He said that traditional plants such as Rooibos had been stolen from indigenous people by Europeans.

“The so-called professors, who are white, stole knowledge from our people, taking advantage becasue the knowledge holders cannot write."

Mabena called for the government to celebrate indigenous knowledge holders by erecting statues for cultural activists like Credo Mutwa.

He said it was important to protect indigenous knowledge because it was a way of life for locals. He has partnered with the University of Pretoria, which sent students to him to learn how traditional healers identified medicinal plants.

“We also teach them that our philosophy as traditional healers is governed by the spirit of ubuntu (humanity),” Mabena said.