What is a Heritage Object?

A heritage object is defined as any moveable property of cultural significance which may be protected in terms of the provisions of the National Heritage Resources Act, No 25 of 1999 (the Act). This may include archaeological artefacts, palaeontological and rare geological specimens, meteorites and any other object which holds cultural significance as outlined in section 3(3) of the Act.

Heritage Objects may be publicly and privately owned and could be found in homes, museums, churches, schools, government buildings and universities. Most objects were produced to serve a specific purpose: a chair for sitting on, a weapon for defence, an artwork that expresses creativity, or jewellery for personal adornment. Some have been imbued with additional social and cultural meaning and, consequently, have a broader heritage value or significance for South Africa. They become meaningful when we know how and why they were made, who used them and how they may have influenced, or been influenced by individuals and communities. Irrespective of whether these heritage objects are in public or private ownership, they form part of what is defined as the National Estate.

SAHRA is mandated by the National Heritage Resources Act, No 25 of 1999 (the Act), to regulate the movement of heritage objects and set the norms and standards for the protection and conservation, thereof, as outlined in s32.

In considering an application to export any object listed in Government Gazette No. 1512 of 6 December 2002 (Types of Heritage Objects, being reviewed) permanently, SAHRA must consider whether the object:

a) is 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 degree of national importance that its loss to South Africa would significantly diminish the National Heritage,

  • and if satisfied that the object fulfils both these criteria, may not recommend the issue of a permit, as the case may be, to export the object permanently.
  • If the objects meet the criteria, and form part of the National Estate, they are protected and may not be exported

What is the National Estate?

The National Estate is the total sum of heritage resources in South Africa worthy of preservation. These include places and objects to which oral traditions are attached or which are associated with living heritage; objects of historical and cultural significance; objects associated with leaders; historical settlements; landscapes and natural features of cultural significance; archaeological and paleontological sites; graves and burial grounds, including ancestral and royal graves; graves of traditional leaders and graves of victims of conflict; as well as sites relating to the history of slavery in South Africa.

Protection of Heritage Objects:

Heritage Objects are protected either as types of objects as described on the List of Types referred to earlier or these may be Specifically Declared:

1. Types of Objects

  • Objects recovered from the soil or waters of South Africa, including archaeological and paleontological objects, meteorites and rare geological specimens;
  • Visual art objects;
  • Objects to which oral traditions are attached and which are associated with living heritage;
  • Cultural objects including those sometimes referred to as decorative or fine arts, ethnographic and cultural objects;
  • Military objects;
  • Objects relating to South African history, including the history of science and technology, military and social history, as well as to the life of peoples, national leaders, thinkers, scientists, artists and to events of national importance;
  • Objects of scientific or technological interest; and
  • Books, records, documents, photographic positives and negatives, film or video material or sound recordings, excluding those that are public records as defined in section 1 (xiv) of the National Archives of South Africa Act, 1996 (Act No 43 of 1996).

Types of Objects in the custody of State institutions may not be alienated without SAHRA’s consent. SAHRA has systems and procedures in place and have good relations with the South African Police Service regarding the assessment of firearms intended for destruction. SAHRA also has good relations with Transnet in order to assess railway heritage intended to be alienated. SAHRA also ensures that interested and affected individuals and heritage bodies are consulted in the process. SAHRA has developed guidelines and procedures to ensure compliance

2. Specifically Declared Heritage Objects

Certain Types of Heritage Objects which are considered to be unique, special and/or under threat may be specifically declared. An example is the Broster Beadwork Collection, which was designated as a Specifically Declared Collection in 2014.

According to the Act, (s58(f)), all objects or collections previously gazetted under the National Monument Council Act of 1969 which are considered to be cultural treasures in terms of section 5(c) and moveable national monuments in terms of section 10 of the previous Act are heritage objects. Owners of collections that fall into this category are encouraged to contact SAHRA Heritage Objects Unit in this regard.

Owners or Custodians of Specifically Declared Heritage Objects or Collections must apply for a permit from SAHRA if they intend to destroy damage, disfigure or alter any Heritage Object or disperse any Collection. Apply for such a permit on SAHRIS.

Should the owner(s) of specifically declared objects or collections wish to sell the said object(s) or collection, SAHRA should be notified of this sale and the conditions under which the object(s) or collection shall be moved to must match those under which they were previously curated. In addition, if an object that forms part of a declared collection is relocated, SAHRA must be informed.

The following objects and collections are specifically declared:

1.The Three Bronze Cannons

a) The Bronze Bocarro Cannon

b)The Bronze Feyo Naval Cannon

c)The Bronze (brass) naval Cannon

Eastern Cape
2.Broster Beadwork Eastern Cape
3. The Hill Organ Eastern Cape
4. The Miracle Cannon from Wreck of Sacremento Eastern Cape
5. The University of Fort Hare Collections Eastern Cape
6. Castle Hill Antique collection and memorabilia Eastern Cape
7. The Gnome aircraft engine Free State
8. The Kitty Steam Locomotive Gauteng
9. The Jan Smuts study Gauteng
10. The South African Mint Collection Gauteng
11. The Kruger Chairs Gauteng
12. The NZASM railway carriage No. 18 Gauteng
13. The NZASM locomotive No, 242 Gauteng
14. The Paul Loewenstein Collection Gauteng
15. The Dias Cross Gauteng
16. Ten Harvard Aircrafts Gauteng
17. The Christianberg Berlin Mission Church: Cast Iron Commemorative Cross Kwazulu Natal
18. The Christianaberg Berlin Mission Church: 1846 Church Bell Kwazulu Natal
20. The Voortrekker pulpit Kwazulu Natal
. Castor and Pollux, two 6.3 inch RML Howitzer Guns Kwazulu Natal
21. The One O’Clock Gun Kwazulu Natal
22. The Naval Gun Mpumalanga
23. The Steam locomotive ‘Clara Northern Cape
24. The Moffat’s Pulpit Northern Cape
25. The Kuruman Press Northern Cape
26. The collection of cultural artefacts including the gold rhino, bowl and sceptre, associated with the Iron Age settlements on Mapungubwe Hill, the Southern Terrace, K2 and Bambandyanalo, situated on the farm Greefswald, Messina District, exhibited at the Mapungubwe Museum Pretoria
27. William Fehr collection Western Cape
28. Kirby Collection of Musical Instruments Western Cape
29. The Groote Schuur collection Western Cape
30. The Sun Dial Western Cape
31. The Clock Western Cape
32. Blackie Western Cape
33. The Van Plettenberg Beacon Western Cape
34. The Anrieth pediment Western Cape
35. The Brandy still Western Cape
36. The VOC Beacon Western Cape
37. The Pulpit Western Cape
38. The 9 Inch MLR Gun Western Cape
39. The Printing Press of GRA Western Cape
40. The symbolic silver Vice Admiralty Oar of the Cape of Good Hope Western Cape
41. The socio-historical collection of the Genadendal Mission Museum Western Cape
42. The late nineteenth century panoramic painting of Cape Town by JL Pickering Western Cape
43. The Broster Beadwork Collection Eastern Cape

Nominating a heritage object or collection for declaration:

Any member of the public may submit a nomination for an object or collection for declaration, though only SAHRA has the authority to officially declare a heritage object or collection. Nominations should be submitted to SAHRA where a decision will be made whether or not the object or collection is of such significance that it is worthy of declaration. If that is found to be the case, the Council would approve declaration which shall be published in the Government Gazette.

The Export of Heritage Objects

Anyone who intends exporting an object described on the List of Types must apply for a permit from SAHRA and pay permit fees. Applications for permits to export a Heritage Objects are obtained via the South African Heritage Resources Information System (SAHRIS). Go to www.sahra.org.za/sahris, to login and make use of the system.

SAHRA is mandated to issue a permit or refuse an export permit. If SAHRA refuses to grant an export permit, the applicant has the right to appeal against SAHRA’s decision. The List of Types has been aligned with and incorporated into the South African Revenue Services Prohibited and Restricted List. To see this list, go to: http://www.sars.gov.za/ClientSegments/Customs-Excise/Travellers/Pages/Prohibited-and-Restricted-goods.aspx

Import Control

No person may import any foreign cultural property of heritage value into South Africa other than through a Customs Port of Entry, and the proof that they have complied with the laws of origin must be produced. A Customs Officer, who has reason to believe that a person is attempting to import an object in contravention of the above, may attach the object concerned.

Combating Illicit Trafficking in Heritage Objects

Illicit trafficking refers to the illegal means by which heritage objects leave or enter South Africa. In order to combat illegal trafficking of South African heritage objects and to provide frameworks for appropriate action in the event of foreign heritage objects entering South Africa illegally:

South Africa accepted the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property in December 2003.

South Africa is in the process of ratification of the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Property.

The above Conventions are international instruments to combat illicit trafficking of movable cultural property. In addition, SAHRA is a participant in the International Committee on Museums (ICOM) International Observatory on Illicit Trafficking in Cultural Goods.

In the event of theft of heritage objects

The South African Police Service (SAPS) and International Police (Interpol) investigates heritage related crime which includes objects stolen from museums as well as illicit trafficking. Reports of thefts of objects in museums can be lodged on SAHRIS after the crime has been reported to the local police station and a case number was obtained. The public are urged to inform SAHRA, report crimes on SAHRIS and/or to report heritage related crime to the SAPS.