by Andries Loots
Africa's new Heritage Bill
|ANOTHER NEW LAW, the Heritage Law,
was passed in South Africa recently which replaces the old Monuments Council
Act that is still in use. This new law provides guidelines to control
and protect the country's heritage and looks into not only buildings and historical sites
but also into objects and collectibles like paintings, sculpture, military
items, archaeological relics, coins, books, records,
photographs, videotapes and other objects of cultural and historical significance.
|It is amazing that
laws like these are being passed daily now with more serious matters like curbing
crime, providing jobs and housing, looming.
|Mr. Albie Sacks of the ANC
addressed a meetings at the Pretoria Art Museum in 1993 and said there would be no
money for Euro centric art and institutions like museums in the new South Africa.
This is slowly becoming true in the cuts in budgets for Museums and National
Galleries lately. Why the sudden great concern for heritage and objects of the
" old apartheid history " ? It seems that the government is realizing that there
will always be a part of the nation that will trade in these objects to an ever
increasing International market.
Africa's Art and artists have been out of International circulation for the many years and
with only a few exhibitions staged overseas and a couple of paintings sold at major
auctions like Christie's and Sotheby's. Exports of works by our major artists like
Baines, Bowler, Pierneef, Hugo Naude, Irma Stern, Maggie Laubser
and many more, were never done at any scale as there was no real demand for these
artworks overseas. With the International markets opening up to South Africa,
after sanctions and also by means of the Internet and Sotheby's ( South Africa
), the world is taking note of the quality of works that were produced by our own
" Old Masters ". The prices at auctions like Sotheby's have sharply increased
over the last year and there has been a keen interest by overseas buyers which created the
opportunity that we, South Africa, can take our rightful place in the
international art market.
|The bill requires that dealers
handling heritage objects must register with the South African Heritage Resources Agency
so that their operations can be monitored by the agency. Once an item has been declared a
heritage object, it must be registered with the agency. If the owner sells the
object, the new owner must also register with the agency. An owner of a
heritage object in need of restoration must obtain a permit from the agency before
restoration can begin. An export permit is required to export such an item. If the permit
is denied, the applicant may " within 30 days " by written notice request
the compulsory purchase of this object to which the refusal relates. If the agency is of
the opinion that the object could be sold to a person or public authority in South Africa
within the following six months, it can establish a delay in proceedings of up to
this period of time.
The agency, on it's
own or on the behalf of a South African public institution, authority or person will
undertake to keep the object in South Africa either by a)
purchasing the object for cash or b) by ways of compensation
in such a manner as the Minister of Arts, Culture, Science and
Technology in consultation with the Minister of Finance may determine.
|This sounds very well but yet again
we are looking at a country with barely enough money to create jobs or housing for it's
people where the education system is failing and our medical services are sliding. With
the weak rand and our suffering economy, a lot of money will be required to keep the
price of purchasing the objects at International market related prices. One wonders where
these funds will come from, or is this where the second clause should be considered
|The bill gives the agency the
permission to delay an export permit for up to two years during which time an offer can be
made for the purchase of the object. If during this time a, " good enough offer " ( according to the agency ),
has been made, the agency has the full right to refuse an export permit. This is
were the story ends as nobody knows as yet what will happen to the object if the present
owner refuses to sell at this price ?
|This will cause owners of heritage objects
not to register them and it will force them to do underground deals with private
International buyers as to get the best price for their investment. As nobody can be so
naive as to think that you buy an Irma Stern Painting for R 550 000 only for the beauty of
the work, it is clear that people has been collecting art and objects for financial
benefits for some time because of the good investment value.
Only time will tell how this law will impact on our society and whether we
will follow the same route as the rest of Africa where museum pieces were disposed of on
the black market.