On Sunday, November 11th, the Pretoria Art Museum in Johannesburg had more than $2 million worth of paintings stolen from it. The thieves gained entrance to the museum by posing as art students visiting with their teacher. They paid their entrance fees and then asked a curator to show them around to specific paintings around the gallery.
After they had found all the paintings on their list, they pulled out pistols, forced everyone to the ground, and tied up the curator and several others. They then collected the artwork and fled the museum with five valuable works of art, including ones by Irma Stern, J.H. Pierneef, Gerard Sekoto, Hugo Naude, and Maggie Laubser.
A sixth painting, another Stern piece, was left behind when the thieves discovered that it was too large to fit inside their getaway car. Ironically, though they had done enough research to take some of the gallery’s most valuable pieces, the one they left behind was worth the most in the bunch: a stunning $1.5 million.
Authorities are still investigating the robbery, which draws attention to the fact that security in South Africa’s museums are often grossly outdated, making them easy targets. Pretoria’s CCTV security system was broken at the time of the robbery, and only three guards were on duty—not to mention the fact that the robbers were able to gain admittance with pistols on them.
The museum was closed on Monday while the most valuable remaining works were taken down and safely stored. Authorities plan to increase security to prevent future crimes, and investigations of the Sunday incident are ongoing.