President Cyril Ramaphosa has signed the Protection, Promotion, Development and Management of Indigenous Knowledge Bill into law.
The new act aims to prevent the unauthorised use and misappropriation of knowledge developed over time by the country’s indigenous communities.
It also promises to place these communities at the centre of the commercialisation process.
“Indigenous knowledge is a national asset and that it is therefore in the national interest to protect and promote indigenous knowledge through law, policy and both public and private sector programmes,” the act’s preamble states.
It further states that the act will “encourage the use of indigenous knowledge in the development of novel, socially and economically applicable products and services.”
To achieve these goals, the act will establish a National Indigenous Knowledge Systems Office (Nikso) which will be responsible for the management of the rights of indigenous communities.
The bill will also effectively protect indigenous knowledge which:
- Has been passed on from generation to generation within an indigenous community;
- Has been developed within an indigenous community; and
- Is associated with the cultural and social identity of that indigenous community.
“In the event that, and for as long as, the indigenous community of the relevant indigenous knowledge cannot be identified and designated, Nikso must act as custodian of that indigenous knowledge, with the rights and obligations of a trustee in respect of that indigenous knowledge,” the bill states.
The bill further states that the indigenous community holding indigenous knowledge has the exclusive right to:
- Any benefits arising from its commercial use;
- Be acknowledged as its origin; and
- Limit any unauthorised use of the indigenous knowledge.
If a person wishes to use indigenous knowledge for commercial means, they will first have to apply for a license through Nikso.
Alternatively, people who are a member of the indigenous community will have to ask for permission directly from the community and follow any limits imposed.
While the act does not explicitly state what can be classified as indigenous knowledge, it act does provide for a register which will track and monitor which ‘knowledge’ belongs to which community.
A group of assessors and indigenous knowledge practitioners will be responsible for maintaining and adding to this register.
An example of what may be covered by this indigenous knowledge act include traditional Xhosa blankets and various bead works.
You can read the full act below: