Importance Of Indigenous Knowledge Systems In South Africa (2024)

The participation of practitioners and holders of Indigenous Knowledge (IK) has recently risen in priority in the country; this is because we have come to realize the importance of indigenous knowledge systems in South Africa. While the debate rages on, and the Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS) Policy continues to be implemented as the framework to stimulate and strengthen the contribution of indigenous knowledge to promote social and economic development in South Africa, it is essential that we recognize what exactly we stand to gain.

For the purpose of clarity, indigenous knowledge refers to the ancient understanding, knowledge, and traditions, passed down from generation to generation. This knowledge system was largely interrupted by the emergence of western education, which has eroded and replaced the traditional way of learning, and of doing things.

Elements of indigenous knowledge were largely frowned upon, and looked down on, not just as a matter of policy, but also in society as a whole. As a result, the overwhelming majority of South Africans lost interest in Indigenous Knowledge, which is why very few people have been able to carry on these traditions.

Importance Of Indigenous Knowledge Systems In South Africa

In an African context, the importance of Indigenous Knowledge transcends the immediate benefit that society hopes to get from the application of this knowledge; such as preserving food, transporting goods, and the old ways of communal living so as to have a close-knit society.

Indigenous Knowledge is a hallmark of African Identity; it is only by looking at the past that we can remember who we are and that we can have a sense of pride to pass down to future generations. This is also the connection we have to our ancestors; a way of remembering the departed ones who laid the foundation for the African society as it is today.

In order to get a better understanding of what society stands to gain from indigenous knowledge, it is important to break down certain aspects of this knowledge, so as to discuss their benefits.

Hunting And Gathering As An Indigenous Knowledge

In the old days hunting was an integral part of African society. Hunters used to spend days or weeks in the vast forests and woodlands, hunting all kinds of animals for meat which was an important part of the African diet. Hunting was usually done with spears and arrows, and the hunter was poised to kill the prey as quickly as possible.

A good hunter, therefore, needed to know what points to strike so as to increase the chances of killing the animal, otherwise, the wounded animal could run away, and the tribe could go hungry. It is important to note that the points to strike usually differ from animal to animal. It was therefore important for this knowledge to be passed down from the older generation to the younger generation.

Aside from the prospects of bringing home meat for the family, hunting was also quite a dangerous activity; hunting put the hunter in close proximity to dangerous animals like lions, leopards, cheetahs, hippopotamuses, and rhinoceroses. It was, therefore, important to know how to read the signs of the presence of these animals so as to stay alive.

Importance Of Hunting As An Indigenous Knowledge

Hunting is important today not because society depends on hunting for food but because it helps the development of a tough mental attitude which is important because this is necessary to give young men physical strength, the ability to control their fear, and the strength and stamina to be strong men.

In other cultures, camping and hunting are encouraged to build strength and courage in young men. There are youth organizations that train the youth and encourage them to be adventurous. From camping and hunting, many have gone on to become soldiers in the country’s armed forces, professional athletes, or any other career demanding physical activity.

Agriculture As An Indigenous Knowledge

Agriculture is an important activity today, and it was even more important back in the old days when it was not possible to ship food from other locations and then bring it in containers as it is possible to do today. Then, agriculture was an absolute necessity; and a kind of knowledge that was important to pass down to the coming generation because it meant the very sustenance of life.

It was important to know what types of crops to plant in particular locations, as well as the particular time of the year when it was best to plant each particular crop. Parents also passed down the knowledge about what parts of the plants to cultivate, and how to do so.

Aside from planting crops for their leaves, fruits, and tubers, the people of the old days also raised animals. Those animals were kept for their eggs, their meat, and their milk.

It was just as important to know how to defend your flock, especially at night because lions, hyenas, and leopards could sneak in, and destroy the flock.

Importance Of Agriculture As An Indigenous Knowledge

Agriculture is important as indigenous knowledge because it was successfully done in the old days. All over the world, food security is a major issue that every country takes seriously because it is only when people have enough to eat that the country can make any meaningful development.

Indigenous knowledge in the area of agriculture is necessary because it can help boost food security. Scientists can incorporate aspects of the agricultural practices used by Africans in ancient times, so as to find ways of improving crop yield. It is even possible to look for traditional plant species that were grown in the old days without all the chemicals and pesticides that are used today and to develop plant varieties that are hardy, and less susceptible to damage from pests.

These steps will guarantee better crop yield, and will greatly improve food security; thereby allowing the country to spend its money on other things that can bring lasting development.

Aside from improving crop yield, indigenous knowledge is also practical in the area of animal husbandry because some of the old practices were very effective in taking care of the animals. Even today, there are nomadic tribes that live in the vast wilderness, raising their flocks without doing any damage to the forest, and to the natural environment.

Food Preservation As An Indigenous Knowledge

Every culture has its own unique ways of preserving food. As a matter of fact, this is often used as one of the major identifying markers of each culture. In South Africa, the various tribes had their methods of preserving food which included, sun drying, smoking, and sometimes frying in oil.

Traditionally, cooked food was frequently heated to avoid going bad. That means the ancients- instead of freezing their food as is the common practice today- generally employed methods of food preservation that utilized heating as a primary way of keeping their food fresh and edible.

Importance Of Food Preservation As An Indigenous Knowledge

Aside from the fact that preserving food with the old methods may be cheaper than the popular methods of doing it today, many of the traditional African delicacies may lose their taste if they are not treated with the old methods. Some cuisines will only produce their defining aroma when the meat has been preserved in certain ways.

The food that is made with the traditional methods remains special and is very attractive to people from outside the region. These are important factors that boost tourism because people from all over the world come in to see how these foods are preserved, and also to taste these foods.

Indigenous ways of food preservation can therefore be incorporated into the tourism and hospitality sectors to produce a unique taste and feeling which may not be obtainable anywhere in the world.



The importance of indigenous knowledge systems in South Africa cannot be overstated because they are wide and varied. These indigenous practices must be learned and documented so that they are not lost. Losing Indigenous Knowledge can be likened to losing our cultural identity; losing the inherent part of society that makes us “African.”

By preserving Indigenous Knowledge society can promote its culture, which other people from all over the world can come to witness. That can be a source of revenue and foreign exchange; as people will pay money, and patronize businesses just to catch a glimpse of these great facets of African culture, which has been so lovingly passed down from generation to generation, up till the present time.