n Africa Insight - The relevance of indigenous knowledge for sustainable socio-economic development in South Africa : is globalisation a threat?

Volume 36, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 0256-2804


Historically, indigenous knowledge systems have faced many challenges that threatened not only their viability but, more importantly, their very existence. The primary threat has always been Western science, which has defined itself against 'other' forms of knowledge, particularly indigenous knowledge systems. Built on assumptions of cognitive superiority, a-historical terms and pretensions of universalism, Western science denigrated other knowledge systems as pre-modern, pre-scientific and unscientific, and thus by implication, inferior. Ironically, Western science, with its mono-cultural roots, also qualifies as indigenous knowledge. The difference is that it is intolerant and expansionistic, and has a tendency to encroach on and destroy other forms of knowledge. Despite these onslaughts, indigenous knowledge systems (IKS) persisted. This is the case in developing countries all over the world, South Africa being no exception. Currently, trans-modernist discourse has ushered in a renewed interest in the discussions of pre-modern indigenous and other non-Western scientific systems. In spite of these positive developments, IKS now faces a renewed and more subtle onslaught. This renewed onslaught comes from an old threat, newly packaged in a more acceptable catchword, 'globalisation'. In light of this new threat, for IKS to be relevant to indigenous communities and to the health of the global village, it is imperative that space is created and IKS is mainstreamed. The quest to mainstream IKS in South Africa and elsewhere faces the danger of becoming integrated or assimilated by Western science in the process of globalisation, which can be defined, among other things, as the continuous reduction and exploitation of the local to fit the dominant standard.

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