Question and Answer Session The following questions on STOLEN CULTURAL HERITAGE OBJECTS were submitted by Simpiwe Piliso of the Sunday Times newspaper. Gerard de Kamper, SAMA specialist in this area responded. QUESTIONS: 1. a) Why has the South African Museums Association decided to compile a register of stolen cultural heritage objects and artefacts? The theft of artefacts especially from our museums started to reach alarming proportions. It was found that if everybody in the country knew what they were looking for these objects could be found more easily. It deprives South African Museums if these objects are not returned. The South African Museums association has been tasked to help the museum sector in South Africa in any way possible. b) When was this project started? The project was started on the 1 July 2005, so only in the beginning stages. The database would be placed on the website so people can add to the register at anytime. It is not yet complete and some funding is still lacking in this regard. c) Is there a deadline for its completion? The project will never be completed as it is an ongoing project that grows and shrinks as heritage objects are lost and found. d) How many items and artefacts have been registered to date? Like I mentioned before the database is not finished yet. For this reason there are no accessioned information as yet. In my personal databank I have about 30 works listed. There are two problems in this regard, people are shy to report stolen objects as they believe it would reflect negatively on themselves and their institutions. The second problem is that museums, private collectors and other holders of art and heritage objects do not take photographs of their objects and if it gets lost they can not be traced. 2. a) If you could compare the situation ten years ago and now, would you say that the number of thefts of historical items has increased or decreased? If fluctuates from year to year, at the moment smuggling is a big problem. Some South African artist are fashionable, in especially the USA so theft and smuggling in that regard is on the increase. b) Could you please provide a reason for your answer. Like I mentioned South African Art is fashionable at the moment. Centenary celebrations are a big problem, while the Anglo Boer war was being celebrated numerous artefacts disappeared. At the moment huge problems are experienced with 2nd World War items due to the 60th anniversary of the end of the war. Next year (2006) world wide Rembrandt paintings are going to be at risk due to the 400th anniversary of his birth. 3.Could you please list at least three of the most important cultural and historical treasures that have been stolen — and have yet to be recovered — from the museum? At the moment: Pierneef from the SABC offices, Ceramic jar from the Fehr collection in Cape Town Gerard Sekoto collection from Ford Hare University 4. It’s been reported in the past that even when stolen property are tracked down it is not always easy to get it returned to SA. One of the reasons was that the onus is on SA to prove the goods are theirs. Has this changed in any way in the last 10-years and has it become easier for SA to reclaim stolen treasures from abroad? You have to remember there are a great difference between thing removed from the county and stolen property. Repatriation of objects removed from the country before the signing of the UNESCO convention was lawful. Stolen property has never been a problem if sufficient prove exists that the property belongs to someone. That is where Interpol gets involved. The problem is people do not have sufficient prove that they own a certain object. It is very important that photos are taken from objects to try and identify the objects. Interpol has a list of information they need to track stolen works down and to prove this ownership. 5. If a particular stolen artefact, painting or historical Cape silver piece was valued at R150 000 in 1995, how much — on average — would the item be valued to date? It depends on so many factors that it would be impossible to answer this question. Art doesn't escalate in value at a given rate. A certain piece as this might have a stabilised value for the last 50 years. Each piece of art fluctuates in value everyday so I would not be able to answer this question. 6. What impact does the theft of cultural and historical treasures have on the country? The cultural impact is enormous. This type of thief not only robs the country of its valuable cultural heritage objects or artefacts, but also has a negative impact on research because such objects or artefacts are no longer available to researchers.