19 August 2021 Volume :9 Issue :36

UKZN Hosts Interactive Discussion on Indigenous Knowledge Systems in the 21st Century

UKZN Hosts Interactive Discussion on Indigenous Knowledge Systems in the 21st Century
Panelists from the webinar clockwise from top left: Professor Hassan Kaya, Ms Bethan Walkers, Mr Carlos Arbuthnott, Dr Mayashree Chinsamy, Dr Jasdev Singh Rai and Ms Amelia Jefford.

The Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) - National Research Foundation (NRF) Centre in Indigenous Knowledge Systems (CIKS) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) in partnership with the Sikh Human Rights Group (SHRG) in London hosted a webinar titled: Indigenous Knowledge Systems in Cultural and Biological Diversity Conversation for Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation.

The CIKS is a partnership between five Higher Education Institutions in South Africa which includes - UKZN (as the hub), the North West University, the University of South Africa (UNISA), the University of Limpopo, and the University of Venda. The Centre is mandated to preserve, promote and protect African Indigenous Knowledge Systems (AIKS) through research, human capital development, networking and community engagement, within and outside South Africa. The advancement of AIKS continentally and internationally, has led to a Memorandum of Understanding being signed between UKZN and more than 20 African universities and autonomous research institutions, to establish the UNESCO Category 2 - African Institute in Indigenous Knowledge Systems (AIIKS). The CIKS at UKZN is the hub of AIIKS. 

The CIKS Research Manager, Dr Mayashree Chinsamy explained the way the establishment of the AIIKS, is part of implementing the African Union’s Agenda 2063, of achieving the aspirations of the “Africa We Want”, as it provides a cross-cultural, linguistic and international platform for advancing African IKS; brings together researchers, postgraduate students and other stakeholders, from both the public and private sectors, across disciplines, sectors and countries; harnesses and promotes African indigenous languages and home-grown philosophies; and promotes the systematisation of African Indigenous Science, Technology and Innovation in the global knowledge economy.

Director of the SHRG, Dr Jasdev Singh Rai provided background on the organisation, which was founded in 1985 with an initial focus on human rights documentation during the first decade of its existence and later diversified to other areas from 1998 onwards. Rai commented on how the world has lost its sense of sustainability over the centuries, indicating that the organisation had taken the decision to organise a series of webinars as part of its pluralistic approach to environmental degradation - the biggest threat to human survival in the near future.

Human Rights Officer and Project Coordinator for the SHRG, Mr Carlos Arbuthnott outlined the various ways in which climate change is affecting the world. Noting how indigenous people and communities, have contributed the least to this global crisis of environmental degradation he explained how they live traditional lifestyles based on ‘local biological diversity, ecosystem services and cultural landscapes as sources of subsistence and well-being.’ Arbuthnott, identified how indigenous people are affected the most by climate change and questioned why they are excluded from the global processes of decision-making and policy development in global platforms such as the United Nations Climate Change negotiations that determine everyone’s future.

Director of the CIKS and Coordinator of AIIKS at UKZN, Professor Hassan Kaya, highlighted how indigenous communities had long realised the symbiotic relationship that existed between culture, biodiversity and climate change. He noted how through their observation and experimentation with nature, they developed ecologically and culturally specific knowledge, technology and value systems including local community knowledge-based early warning systems and indicators, to adapt and mitigate the adverse effects of climate change. Stating the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) role in conserving biodiversity, he considered how the exclusion of culture and IKS including indigenous languages as repositories of knowledge systems, was a pitfall in achieving the UN’s 2030 Agenda of “Leaving no one Behind”. Kaya shared examples of the strides made by Rwanda and Malawi in the localisation process of SDGs using their indigenous knowledge systems and languages. He highlighted how this has a sustainable impact on the local communities as they build active citizenry, self-reliance and confidence, at all community levels. He also encouraged the African youth to ‘mobilise their digital and artistic knowledge and skills to advance the role of IKS and indigenous languages in cultural and biological diversity conservation, in the context of climate change adaption and mitigation.’

Participants were treated to an hour-long question and answer session facilitated by the Media and Communications Officer for the SHRG, Ms Bethan Walkers.

Words: Hlengiwe Khwela

Image: Supplied

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