Nabbed: Man stole 19th century copies of ‘Witness’ from library

2008-07-08 00:00

A community-minded member of the public helped stop the pillaging of a rare historical archive in the city.

His action resulted in the setting up of a sting in which the alleged thief was caught red-handed selling bound volumes of 19th-century copies of The Natal Witness to an antiques dealer.

The culprit had taken advantage of building renovations currently under way in the Msunduzi Library to pilfer these historical records.

The drama started on Friday when the concerned citizen, who does not want to be named, walked into the antique shop and spotted bound copies of The Natal Witness from about 1860 to 1890 on display. He mentioned this to a relative who works at The Witness. The items were not part of the newspaper’s collection and enquiries by Witness staff alerted librarians and archivists around the city.

Msunduzi municipal librarian John Morrison visited the antique shop and discovered that the copies on display had come from the newspaper collection in the library, which was recently moved to allow for the multi-million-rand revamp of the library’s periodical section.

With construction workers tramping through the site, there was no easy way to identify the culprit, so with the help of the antiques dealer, a sting was set up.

The dealer placed an order with the alleged thief, who arrived at his shop on Monday afternoon with an armload of illegal bounty. He was nabbed on the spot by waiting policemen and charged with theft.

Morrison identified the man as being involved with the construction process and he was also able to establish that the newspapers had been removed from their temporary stacks.

Morrison said there is also evidence that copies were carefully removed from different stacks, making it difficult to spot missing items.

Msunduzi municipal manager Rob Haswell expressed his gratitude that community involvement saved the day.

He said historic copies of The Natal Witness are an invaluable source of historical information and they also provide real insight into the life and times of Pietermaritzburg.

Haswell appealed to more people to be civic minded and to report stolen goods.

Police spokeswoman Inspector Joey Jeevan confirmed yesterday that a case of theft from the library is being investigated and that a suspect has been charged.

nalini@witness.co.za

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