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week 13    by Andries Loots

South 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. sekoto
South 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.
copper chair
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.

irma stern