Ethical research code influenced by San leader

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Video by Amy Azra Dean used with permission from TRUST.

The San of South Africa are one of the most researched communities in the world. Their indigenous knowledge and genetic makeup have been of great interest to researchers as they are ancestors of the first hunter-gatherers in Africa. While the media and researchers have continued to want to engage with the community, TRUST, a global initiative which seeks to reduce exploitation in North-South research collaborations, alongside the San Council created a contract to protect the community from exploitation, and to ensure the San also benefit from any research.

“We, the San, want to protect ourselves, but we also want to work with people. On the TRUST project we can learn together.””

Andries Steenkamp, leader in the San community

Andries Steenkamp, a leader in both the Khomani San and also the broader San community of South Africa, was heavily involved in these projects with TRUST. He passed away recently, but has left a legacy, having been involved as a skilled leader for over 20 years – a rare feat for anyone in the San communities.

“Whilst most San leaders survived one or two years at the most as leaders, Andries’ rare qualities enabled him to not only grow in wisdom and skill as a leader, but also to be the recipient of widespread trust and approval from the San community as well as the broader world that he related to,” Roger Chennells, lawyer for the South African San Institute and legal advisor to the San in South Africa, told SciDev.Net.

TRUST aims to develop a global protocol for ethical research. With the help of leaders like Andries, a locally driven Code of Ethics for involving San people in research has been initiated by a range of organisations in Southern Africa. Referencing the original research and media contract, this is now being finalized into the first indigenous-developed ethics code in Africa.

“Andries was involved in the world-renowned agreements for the protection of traditional knowledge (such as for the Hoodia, Sceletium, Buchu and more),” Chennells says. “I am not alone in feeling not only the huge sense of personal loss, but an incentive from beyond the grave for those of us that remain to reinvigorate our pursuit of the dreams that he shared for his people.”

“The San want to protect ourselves, but we also want to work with people. On the TRUST project we can learn together” said Steenkamp. The above video was Steenkamps last interview.