Indigenous Knowledge & Intellectual Property by C Ncube and E du Plessis- Reviewed by FWB’s Louis Rood
The 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples has
brought to the fore the rights of indigenous peoples to the protection of their
knowledge and culture. Established legal intellectual property systems, which
view knowledge in terms of private individually-owned property rights that may
be commodified in a market economy, are however inadequate to protect
indigenous knowledge. It is easier to identify a specific inventor or author, and
to patent a single, bright idea than to do so for unique knowledge developed
over time by many people in an ever evolving community culture.
Indigenous knowledge is usually committed to the memories of people in a
particular geographic location and expressed in folklore, stories, songs, rituals,
dances, and other cultural ways, shared orally through traditional processes
within a specific community. This is transmitted from generation to generation
and is embedded in the history and culture of the community. It forms an
integral part of the social, economic, and technological identity of that
community, and its application and adaptation by cohesive traditional societies
ensures its long-term persistence, sanctity and progress within the natural,
social and economic environment of those societies.
Achille Mbembe, Research Professor in history and politics at the Wits Institute
for Social and Economic Research, has observed with regard to Africa: “…the
existence of deep histories and entrenched cultures of curiosity, invention and
innovation, long underestimated, neglected or misunderstood….In their
extraordinary liveliness and frugality, these cultures of retrieval, repair and
remaking of things are the repositories of tacit knowledge and skills that have
not been the object of proper documentation and even less so of archiving”.
(Mail & Guardian, 2017 January 6 to 12).
This collection of essays by distinguished authors and editors forms a valuable
and timely examination of the complex and daunting challenges of giving
substance to the rights inherent in and flowing from indigenous knowledge.
Various approaches to the protection of indigenous knowledge are assessed
as well as the tension between the desire to exploit traditional knowledge for
financial gain, and the desire to protect and preserve traditional knowledge.
These differing approaches are reflected in draft legislation that has been
formulated in South Africa, but this is a subject that is far from being resolved.
The contributions that this perceptive book offers, drawing as they do from
policy and legislative developments in various foreign jurisdictions facing
similar difficulties, provide significant insights and critical perspectives to what
lies at the heart of transformation and decolonisation.
Congratulations are due to the learnered editors Professors Caroline B Ncube
LLB, LLM, PhD and Elmien du Plessis BA, LLB, LLD, as well as the
contributing authors Professors Pamela Andanda LLB, LLM, PhD, and Sue
Farran BA, LLB, LLM, PhD, and Hojjat Khademi LLB, LLM, as well as
publishers Juta and Professor Hanri Mostert, series editor of Juta’s
Contemporary Legal and Applied Research Series. Recognition of the wider
importance and deep potential benefits of our rich and diverse indigenous
knowledge has been invigorated by this insightful and studious publication.
23 Mar 2017
9 Mar 2017
2 Mar 2017
20 Feb 2017