Mystery over museum heist

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groot constantia

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The 17th century Manor House and Iziko Museum at Groot Constantia was robbed of heritage pieces estimated to be valued at half a million rand. Photo: David Ritchie

It is unclear how burglars managed to make off with 19 Oriental porcelain antiques during a heist at the Groot Constantia Estate museum.

The value of the stolen items has not yet been officially revealed, but looking at a catalogue of the stolen items, Andrew Newall, a Cape Town-based antique dealer and an expert in Oriental ceramics has estimated the value at just over half a million rand.

On Tuesday police said the burglars had forced open a back window at the historic Manor House, where the collection of ceramics was housed.

Rooksana Omar, Iziko Museums’ CEO, confirmed on Tuesday that the theft had only been noticed when staff at the Manor House unlocked the building on Monday morning.

“Iziko Museums and museums across the world have security measures in place to protect antiques, art and heritage objects,” said Melody Kleinsmith, Iziko’s spokeswoman.

“In spite of this, these objects still remain vulnerable to the threat of theft.”

About 10 years ago, Groot Constantia was robbed by burglars who broke through the roof, said Newall.

“One would think that, after the first one, proper security measures were put in place to avoid another one.

“I think that serious questions need to be asked of the Iziko management about how the burglars breached the security,” said Newall.

Police have not provided any further information about the modus operandi of the burglars.

Nor have any of the questions about the security set-up, specifically about whether an alarm had been triggered or de-activated, been answered by Iziko.

Artinsure, the company that insured the ceramics, said it was concerned with the security breach and would conduct an investigation into how and why the burglars were able to escape with the ceramics without being detected.

Meanwhile, Artinsure investigators were working with local law enforcement on the scene yesterday to maximise the chances of recovering the lost items, said Gordon Massie, the company’s director.

In May last year, Chinese porcelain to the value of R500 000 was stolen from the Academy of Science and Art in Pretoria.

“In South Africa this kind of sophisticated targeted art theft is relatively rare.

“Locally there is also not really a market for Chinese porcelain antiques and thieves would generally go for the obviously valuable items such as silver and jewellery,” he said.

“Yet the oriental market is strong and collectors over there have a lot of money at the moment.”

He said the hit might have been orchestrated by a syndicate from outside the country, probably from China.

“And, similarly, the artefacts will almost certainly be exported to the East or sold undercover to a Chinese buyer in South Africa.”

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Cape Argus


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