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Indigenous knowledge is a feature of all cultures and races. Traditional medicine has been widely practiced in Africa and other parts of the world. It uses herbs and roots in the treatment and management of diseases, predominantly but not exclusively in rural areas where there is no access to health care.

The Portfolio Committee on Science and Technology met with traditional healer, Dr Nkomo, in Mphaphetheni, a rural area outside of Inanda, to find out her views on the Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS) Documentation Project. Dr Nkomo has been instrumental in advising the project team on the approach to take when collecting data from the traditional healers.

The Committee heard that in Qadi and Isigidi (both wards in eThekwini), 760 traditional healers were approached to share and document their knowledge. The project has been able to collect data from 680 people who have shared their knowledge of indigenous medicine. In northern KwaZulu-Natal, the project is run using nine indigenous knowledge coordinators who have thus far recorded 703 traditional healers in Umhlabuyalingana, Nkandla and Nongoma.

The IKS Documentation Project is a collaboration between the Department of Science and Technology (DST), the National Research Foundation (NRF) and the universities of KwaZulu-Natal and Zululand. It is based within the DST-NRF Centre in Indigenous Knowledge Systems (CIKS) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

The Committee was told that one of the strategies of CIKS is to conduct IKS epistemologies and research methodologies workshops for supervisors and post-graduate students to create a common understanding of IKS as an area of enquiry. The Committee heard about one such project is research studying the effects of three herbs in the treatment of dysmenorrhoea, which has the potential to assist women all over the world.

The Committee also viewed the artefacts on exhibition and received presentations from students and academics working on indigenous knowledge research projects. The Chairperson of the Committee, Ms Lindiwe Maseko said that IKS is an untapped world of possibilities, where the indigenous knowledge is rooted deep within our cultures. 

“When this knowledge comes to the fore through research and development it can make a huge impact,” Ms Maseko said, after listening to the presenters. She also noted that the Protection, Promotion, and Development of Indigenous Knowledge Systems Bill will have input from a wide range of submissions from experts and researchers in the field.

Sureshinee Govender
31 March 2017