There has been an increase recently in the export of South African art and objects of value and we regularly deal with queries regarding the relocation of art works. All art and objects of national and cultural interest are considered as National Estate and falls under the National Heritage Resources act #25 of 1999.
The act states:
For the purposes of this Act, those heritage resources of South Africa which are of cultural signiﬁcance or other special value for the present community and for future generations must be considered part of the national estate and fall within the sphere of operations of heritage resources authorities.
It is within the jurisdiction of the South African Heritage Resource Agency (SAHRA), a legal body under order of the Minister of Arts and Culture, to determine whether an object is part of the national estate. If an object has been declared as being part of the national estate its export must be controlled.
How do I know if I should apply for a permit?
If the work is older than 60 years and has been determined, by relevant scholars in the field, as a significant work by the artist, then you must obtain a permit before exporting the object. For example, all of Irma Stern’s works are older than 60 years and she is considered as one of the most accomplished artists in South Africa, therefore you must apply for a permit.
However, in some cases you do not necessarily require an export permit. One of South Africa’s most celebrated sculptors was Anton van Wouw, he often portrayed prominent South African figures and cultural scenes of the time. If you own one of his pieces such as BAD NEWS, a bronze figure cast by Fonderia G Nisini in Rome, it is widely considered as one of his most renowned works. However, it will most probably not be considered as National Heritage as there are already three of them in museums in South Africa. Therefore an export permit is to be issued the country’s National Heritage will not be diminished.
However, you should always apply for a permit before considering exporting any work by a South African artist.
What is the process of obtaining an export permit?
To ease the process the application form can be accessed on their website. It can be applied for by a third party or the owner and the fee for such a permit is a R150.
After an application has been submitted SAHRA’s appointed committee will assess all application. An expert examiner and SAHRA must consider whether the object is — (a) of outstanding signiﬁcance by reason of its close association with South African history or culture, its aesthetic qualities, or its value in the study of the arts or sciences and (b) is of such a degree of national importance that its loss to South Africa would signiﬁcantly diminish the national heritage.
If these criteria are not met, an export permit may be issued. However, if the object does comply with certain criteria then a permit will not be issued. If a permit is refused, the owner has thirty days to apply for compulsory purchase. SAHRA then needs to assess if the object may be bought by a public or private entity for a fair and reasonable price within South Africa in a timeframe of six months. This may be extended in special circumstances if deemed necessary by the Minister of Arts and Culture and SAHRA. If the object cannot be sold within the given timeframes and no museum shows interest in the item then an export permit may be issued to the owner of the item.
If you are considering taking a collectible item out of the country and would like to obtain more information about it and its relevance to the cultural interest of the National Estate then please do not hesitate to contact one of our specialists.