Durban - A priceless collection of medals, buttons and badges has been stolen from the Talana Museum in Dundee, leaving archaeology enthusiasts and history boffins reeling at the great loss to the province and country.
Undetonated explosives were found near the opened safes and sent for testing.
News of the theft broke on social media with the museum’s Pam McFadden posting on the Talana Museum Facebook page that these artefacts were stolen from the high security area.
Speaking to the Daily News on Wednesday, McFadden said the theft occurred during the early hours of Friday. All three of their safes were targeted, with the thieves gaining entry through the roof and drilling through 30cm of concrete.
A comprehensive list of the stolen items and pictures of the medals was posted on their website. About 90 medals were stolen as well as numerous medal bars, 24 Dundee trade tokens, military and police buttons, military badges, a 1 000 Reichsdollar note as well as money notes from Mozambique, Zambia, Angola, Hong Kong, USA, Namibia and Switzerland.
An enthusiast, Jennie Upton, had written about the theft on the business network LinkedIn on Sunday, calling it a “dark day for South Africa” and the museum staff.
Upton said a priceless, irreplaceable collection of medals from the Anglo-Zulu War and World War I were among the items stolen. “One in particular, belonging to Dugald MacPhail, one of the Founders of Dundee and one of the few survivors from the Battle of Isandlwana (Zulu-War 1879), has been lost. His medal, one of its kind in the world, is valued at R4.2 million,” she wrote.
McFadden denied the use of explosives on the safes, saying they were found in a plastic bag at the scene of the crime.
Police spokesman, Colonel Jay Naicker, said three laptops, a data projector, medals and an undisclosed amount of cash were also stolen. He said the explosives found, believed to be the kind used in mining, were taken by the bomb squad for testing.
No arrests have been made, but he appealed to anyone with information to contact Warrant Officer Avin Jagath at 083 788 2337 or Crime Stop at 08600 10111.
Police said drills and angle grinders were used to open the safes.
The war weapons kept in the museum were also taken out of the display cases, but were not stolen, police said.
Upton reported that the thieves knew exactly where to go to disarm the alarm and apparently knew where to target the “heavily fortified armoury” where the medal collection was housed.
According to the museum website, the Zulu meaning of “Talana” is “the shelf where precious items are stored”.
The provincial Department of Arts and Culture expressed its concern and sadness at the news of the theft.
Spokesman Lethukuthula Mtshali said the province and country would suffer because once these priceless artefacts were lost, “they cannot be recovered”.
“The theft is very worrying and we hope the police are able to establish what happened, why they were stolen and where to find them,” he said.
McFadden said collectors and other possible buyers were alerted not to buy these items if approached.
On hearing of the news on the Heritage KwaZulu-Natal page, a member said they had moved all their medals out of display at Richmond last year because of a suspected “gang” hitting museums to steal coins and medals.
“They did ‘visit’ and pretended to be interested for research and asked to see our coins. After that everything got locked away,” he posted.
Social media comments
* “What type of person would so wantonly wreck a national treasure such as the one that has been so lovingly and painstakingly created over many, many years”
* “I awoke this morning to the devastating news of the targeted attack on the museum over the weekend. I was so, so sorry to read about what had happened and my heart went out to you and all the museum staff.”
* “I will circulate it among the medal collecting community and am keeping my fingers crossed that the items will be recovered.”
* “It almost feels like I should be offering my condolences on the loss of a loved one! Rest assured that I and all those worldwide who are in constant communication with one another have spread the word far and wide and it can only be hoped and prayed for that the medals and whatever else is missing is returned post haste and the perpetrators brought to book.”