Content developed by Toby Orford Art Law
"Repatriation" is “The return of art or cultural objects to their country of origin or, for looted art, to its former owners or their heirs.”
Despite the fact that country does not have (and has not lost) national treasures like those of ancient Greece, Rome or Egypt, or valuable and highly regarded works of art that in demand around the world, repatriation is not entirely irrelevant to South Africa. At least one organisation, Ifa Lethu, is committed to bringing home works of art that left the country during the “struggle” period.
Under the Heritage Resources Act regulations, art works (such as paintings) that have been in the country for more than 50 years are protected, and, in theory, permission is needed to export them. Other objects appear to fall outside the scope of this protection or there is no effective means to enforce the rules. If works are leaving the country illegally, repatriation may become much more relevant in the future.
Realistically, the only market for the South African “great masters” is in South Africa or amongst South Africans. All of this means that there are no (or very few) works or art or cultural objects to repatriate. Although, for the time being, the subject of restitution is of little practical importance, the subject is of great relevance to the African continent as a whole, and in particular countries such as Nigeria from which very valuable and important works have been stolen or looted in the past.