Binarism as a Recipe for Lukewarm Research into Indigenous Knowledge Systems in Zimbabwe

Binarism as a Recipe for Lukewarm Research into Indigenous Knowledge Systems in Zimbabwe

Jacob Mapara (Chinhoyi University of Technology, Zimbabwe)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0833-5.ch001


The thesis of this chapter is that there is need for vigorous and robust research into Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS) in Zimbabwe. It argues that such research is afflicted by binarism, an affliction that permeates the Zimbabwean academic psyche. It notes that the major stumbling block to meaningful research emanates from the effects of western forms of epistemology that have affected some Zimbabwean scholars who have come to believe that all good science comes from the west. The researcher further argues that what makes the Zimbabwean situation so gloomy is the fact that the country does not have an IKS policy, but a science, technology and innovation policy that makes reference to IKS in passing. It is this lack of commitment, the paper further asserts, that afflicts academia because there are areas where government is expected to take a lead, but in the case of Zimbabwe, this leadership is lacking.
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Zimbabwe is a former British colony. Demographically, the largest number of people in the country are the indigenous people made up of a large percentage of Bantu (which means people) and the Khoisan whose numbers are significantly diminished. This gives a total of 99.7% according to the 2012 Census report (ZIMSTAT). The remaining 0.3% is made up of nationalities that are not of African ancestry. The Bantu are linguistically diverse but the major language groups are the Shona and Ndebele. Other language groups are the Kalanga, who linguistically are close to the Shona. There are also the Nambya, Tonga, Tsonga and Venda among other Bantu groups. All these people have cultures that are somehow related. For example, religiously most are practitioners of indigenous religions, although the majority also profess to be Christians. Generally the majority of these groups have also intermarried. This means that their practices have therefore informed and influenced one another. In addition to all these, the people also share certain practices such as those that relate to religion and agriculture. They also have a lot in common in the areas of herbal and medicinal practices. This means that Zimbabwe has a rich heritage that has been built over the centuries.

Zimbabwe’s rich historical past is also significant. Zimbabwe is home to the Great Zimbabwe Monuments which were built by the ancestors of the Shona between AD 1270 and 1550, emerging in the southern plateau regions of Zimbabwe, around modern day Masvingo from an Iron Age agricultural community (Pikirayi, 2006, p. 31). These monuments are the biggest, but are not the only ones since they are scattered throughout southern Africa. They are found in Botswana (Domboshaba), Mozambique (Manekeni/Manyikeni) and in South Africa (Mapungubwe). If it was in other countries, these monuments would have inspired innovation and creativity. Among Zimbabweans they prove to the world that the indigenous people had in the past skills and expertise that was useful to their immediate environment. While Zimbabweans are said to be the most literate on the African continent, their failure to look back into the past as the Israelis have done is an indictment on the meaning of their literacy levels. It is unfortunate that these literacy levels have not been transformed into people’s appreciation of themselves. In fact, the literacy levels have gone a long way in alienating Zimbabweans from themselves. This leads to a situation where one can say that Zimbabweans are highly educated but poorly learned. This means that they can go through a programme of study and pass any tests and examinations that are set, but after that experience, they do not come out changed – they learn nothing. What Zimbabweans should have done, and may need to do even today is to take advantage of their relatively related cultures and tap into their practices.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Bantu: As a noun, it means a person. This term also refers a member of any of several peoples forming a linguistically and in some respects culturally interconnected folks in central and southern Africa (Niger-Congo). As a language group it is made up of more than 500 languages of which Ndebele, Shona and Zulu are found grouped in the Benue-Congo branch of the Niger-Kordofanian family.

Khoi-San: Two groups of people of Southern Africa, who share physical and recognized linguistic characteristics distinctive from those of the Bantu in the same region. They are believed to have had an impact on Nguni languages, where speakers of languages such as Ndebele and Zulu adopted the click in some of their words. Culturally, the Khoisan are divided into the San who are hunter-gatherers and the Khoikhoi (Xoixoi) who are pastoralists.

Epistemology: The study of knowledge and acceptable as well as reasonable belief. It is about issues having to do with the study of knowledge and justified belief. It questions what knowledge is and how it can be acquired. In other words, it deals with issues pertaining to the creation and dissemination of knowledge in particular areas of inquiry.

Binarism: An idea that is predicated on stable oppositions such as good and evil or male and female. It is perceived in post-structuralist analysis as an inadequate approach to areas of difference. Binarism has led to a lot of conflicts in the world and may be perceived as the root of religious intolerance as well as racism that has seen the dichotomisation of for example, different types of knowledge, with Western knowledge classified as the real one and the only form of knowledge worth pursuing, while indigenous knowledge is in some instances not only peripherised but also classified as no knowledge at all.

Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS): The modus operandi and processes that the indigenous peoples use to harness and utilize indigenous knowledge.

Social Darwinism: This theory came into being in the late nineteenth century and suggested that the laws of evolution, which Charles Darwin had observed in nature, also apply to society. Social Darwinists suggested that the social progress of human beings resulted from conflicts in which the fittest or best adapted individuals, or entire societies, would prevail. It gave rise to the slogan “survival of the fittest.” This theory influenced imperial expansion and also ideas related to the generation and dissemination of knowledge, with western schools being set up in colonies.

Indigenous Knowledge (IK): That type of knowledge that is unique to a given culture or community. It informs the local society of what actions to take in areas that relate to a plethora of things such as health and agriculture as well as religion. This knowledge is largely used by rural communities.

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