We have received from Mr Itzkin your release on what has taken place at Museum Africa. We are most grateful to you for issuing a formal statement explaining what had happened and listing the artefacts from specific collections which were damaged as well as the use of the conservator to render remedial action. Your statement has dealt with a major issue that is the lack of communication from the City on a matter of public concern.
We want to assure you immediately that the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation (JHF) was most grateful for the invitation to the meeting on 30th December and the opportunity it offered to inspect the damage. Two of our Board members were to have attended, but the meeting was postponed due to President’s announcement of the return to Level 3 in an effort to combat the rising Covid infection rate.
1. We note the following firm information has been given:
There was damage to:
- 111 Photographs from the Bensusan collection
- 7 from the image collection – these were framed artworks but we don’t know whether they were oils, water colours, pencil or ink sketches… The Image collection refers to artworks. Included in that collection of more than 25 000 art works are some over 300 years old recording people, flora and fauna of southern Africa.
- Plus 73 non-heritage items from the Geological Museum collection and the Image collection. Were they perhaps display cabinets or wall charts?
2. We regret that it has taken 9 weeks to inform stakeholders as to what happened and the extent of the damage. We urge the City to see an NGO such as JHF as a partner in the preservation of Johannesburg history and its South African treasure trove.
3. Regarding the charge of “circulating inaccuracies and gross exaggeration” please understand that in the absence of official information JHF felt duty bound to inform its members and concerned stakeholders something of what had happened. It was not our intention to exaggerate, but we wish to stress the international value of the collections and our concern about the lack of security in the first place and secondly that transparency and sharing of efforts being undertaken to recover, conserve and restore the damaged items.
We still don’t know the seriousness of the actual damage.
- Which works of art from the Image collection were damaged? We would appreciate a description. One certainly exists in the catalogue.
- What about the 111 photographs from the Bensusan Collection? Please may we have a list and description of the extent of the damage to the photographs and the remedial action being taken which hopefully will include a photographic record of those which were/are damaged.
- Please get the curators to describe the 73 non-heritage items from the Geological and the image collections.
4. We wish to emphasize that this was and is AN EMERGENCY. We urge an investigation into the cause of this disaster. It points to security inadequacies in addition to a slow reaction to deal with a damaging flood. When did Museum staff discover the flood and its impact? If we spill water on a photograph it requires immediate attention. How soon was the problem of 111 photographs actually dealt with? What steps are in place to ensure there is no recurrence.
We are concerned that the Mayor and Mayoral Committee are unaware of the international importance of the Museum Africa collection and particularly to South Africa and its neighbouring countries in Southern Africa.
The Johannesburg Heritage Foundation is here to help. We are passionate about Museum Africa, and we represent the interest of Johannesburg citizens in its value to researchers, to educators and what it should offer to visitors. We welcome cooperation and transparency and value accurate, detailed and informed communication .
We look forward to a visit to Museum Africa when it is possible once the worst of the pandemic is over .
Kathy Munro, Brett McDougal, Diana Steele and Flo Bird