Monday, 5 December 2016

INDIGENOUS KNOWLEDGE SYSTEMS BILL (B6-2016) - Open Letter to Parliament, Selling Our Heritage to the highest bidder?


INDIGENOUS KNOWLEDGE SYSTEMS BILL (B6-2016) - Open Letter to Parliament, Selling Our Heritage to the highest bidder?



For Attention: Ms. Shanaaz Isaacs

I hereby wish to notify you of my objection to the PROTECTION, PROMOTION, DEVELOPMENT AND MANAGEMENT OF INDIGENOUS KNOWLEDGE SYSTEMS BILL (B6-2016) in its present form.

During the drafting of this Bill, no participation that I know of was invited by the authors, and is clearly reflected in the wording and spirit of the Bill.

South Africa has more than 200,000 traditional healers of all races, tribes, modalities and social and financial standing that at present are the custodians of Indigenous Knowledge as described in this Bill. The uncertainty caused by the CAMs regulations promulgated in 2013 has already negatively impacted the industry, with these new proposals just adding to the situation.

At present the information is free to use for any person that has that knowledge, with many a lay person also having access to it and actively using it to improve their health or treat minor disease. These new proposed laws will take that freedom from the common man as well as the majority of practitioners, as, according to the wording of the Bill, only one legal entity will be able to claim ownership to such knowledge that may be in the public domain. So who will be the best to licence as owner of this knowledge? Will it be first come first served, or will it be the one willing to pay the highest price? What remedy will those have that have been using this free knowledge for generations, but now have to pay a licence fee for something they have used for generations?

As we do not know what the financial impact of the process may be, the potential exists that this process will be unaffordable, or the process might be inaccessible to those that stand to gain or lose by it, placing Government in the default position of ownership after 12 months.
It is this last fact that is of most concern as recent history has shown that severe malpractice may be possible in this knowledge being sold to the highest bidder, with the accompanying possibility of corruption. Taking this in conjunction with the drive of pharmaceutical companies in obtaining new compounds for drugs, and willing to commit techno piracy, this opens the field for immense corruption. As we all have seen in recent international civil and criminal courts, pharmaceutical companies put profits before people.

Africa and its people have suffered severe wrongs from being Colonized, and these laws will place our heritage in the position where it can also be Colonized for a huge fee, with the accompanying loss in use, or used at a price that supports Colonialism.

The South African Government has recently opened up a new facility that promotes Chinese Traditional Medicines under an International Agreement with China, which will result in the opening of several such centres across the country and a hospital in the Western Cape if my knowledge is correct. In my opinion this is the initiative that Africa and South Africa needs to follow. The Chinese actively encourage the development and expansion of their own traditional medicinal knowledge in a national sense, then actively support the export of the knowledge, products and facilities. An example of this is mentioned in the opening of the facilities in South Africa, as well as assisting their practitioners and products to be registered in Australia. The commercial value in trade of Chinese medicines in 2012 was estimated to be $83 Billion, and 2015 it reached $90 Billion. These numbers are based on the export of 600 base plants and 240,000 tons of exports.

The Potential of South African Herbal Medicines as Export Product
South Africa alone has over 30,000 flowering plant species of which many are used for medicinal purposes. Eight plant species have shown potential to treat high blood pressure. In our fresh water eco systems alone, 230 traditional medicinal plants have been listed. It is estimated that the population of South Africa uses 700,000 tons of herbal products.

If these resources can be explored in a sustainable way, and the people of South Africa are encouraged to participate in a constructive manner, the potential exists for the export value of our own Traditional Knowledge in medicines to exceed that of Chinese medicine, instead of selling the rights to foreigners or companies. In this manner all South African can benefit.

The knowledge of using natural sources and plants for medicinal purposes has been around as long as man has been walking the earth, and should not be subjected to ownership by anyone, or be patentable by anyone. This information should stay open source as this was given to us by nature and our Creator to use, and no government, corporation or legal entity should have the power to own it.

Kind regards

Ronald Gibson
05.12.2016




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