Workers blamed for Tatham flood

2017-05-29 18:11
Clint Teichmann from Action Refrigeration uses a lamp to survey the water damage to artworks in the basement of the Tatham Art Gallery on Thursday. Teichmann and his company assisted with pumping out water from the basement after it flooded.

Clint Teichmann from Action Refrigeration uses a lamp to survey the water damage to artworks in the basement of the Tatham Art Gallery on Thursday. Teichmann and his company assisted with pumping out water from the basement after it flooded. (Ian Carbutt)

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Msunduzi Municipality has blamed its own workers for damage to millions of rands worth of irreplaceable art at the Tatham Art Gallery.

In what was labelled as one of “darkest days in the history of the gallery”, City bosses on Thursday said they believe their own employees had sabotaged the electricity supply which led to the flooding of the basement where millions of rands worth of artwork were stored.

The basement stored more than 400 pieces of art.

General manager for sustainable development in the city, Dr Ray Ngcobo, said during the municipal workers’ protest on Wednesday, staff switched off the power to the gallery and other municipal buildings in the city centre. The workers were protesting because their salaries were not paid on time.

Ngcobo said the gallery was left without electricity for two days resulting in the electrically powered water pumps malfunctioning, which left the basement in ankle deep water.

He added that the gallery was also built on an underground stream that could have added to the disaster that the City was investigating.

Ngcobo said the City was using CCTV footage to identify the municipal employees who switched off the power during the protest.

“This is a clear case of sabotage by the workers. In the meantime, we will work with the gallery and assist in every possible way,” he said.

But, in another aspect to this story, a video shared with The Witness shows a red signboard on the wall next to the door of the basement that reads, “Due to faulty design of stormwater drains, no work of art is to be stored below ½ metre off the floor”.

However in the same video, which can be viewed on The Witness Facebook page, the artwork is clearly stored close to the floor.

Director of the gallery Brendan Bell declined to comment when The Witness raised this point with him, asking him to comment on how the artworks were stored.

When The Witness arrived at the gallery on Thursday, Bell and his employees were working feverishly trying to collect all the artwork from the basement to begin the restoration process.

“Today [Friday] is the darkest day in the history of the Tatham Art Gallery,” yelled one of the panicked gallery employees.

Bell and all the employees had rolled up their pants and taken their shoes off to get to the basement to remove one artwork at a time.

The City’s fire and parks and recreation departments were on site attempting to pump the water out of the basement.

Museum technician Phumlani Ntshangase said he arrived at the gallery at 7.45 am yesterday to find the gallery still in darkness.

“I called the electricity department and when they arrived, I took them down to the basement where the power control box was situated and that is how I discovered the flood.

“I stood there and I was shattered to find it like that,” Ntshangase said.

The value of the damaged artwork has not yet been calculated but art restoration experts say they will work around the clock trying to save the art.

Paper conservationist Estelle Liebenberg was called in to assist with restoring the artworks.

“The plan is to first remove all the artwork from their frames and lay them out and try and soak up the water. This is intensive work and it will probably take years to restore everything — that is if the artwork can even be restored to its original state,” Liebenberg said.

She said the art on paper will have to be prioritised and then they will start with the paintings.

The Tatham Art Gallery will be closed indefinitely.

The gallery’s director Brendan Bell conveyed their apologies to all who will be affected by the closure, “especially to the students and teachers who were looking forward to the opening of the KZN Midlands Matric Art Exhibition next week”.

Café Tatham will also be closed until further notice.

Manager of the café Rob Boyd said he was frustrated that the municipality was “once again” the cause of his closing his doors.

“Four years ago, the opening of the café had to be delayed because there was no water and electricity. Then there was the red brick road that took nine months and I was left with hardly any customers.

“Now I have lost out on this month’s pay days as the gallery had no electricity this week,” Boyd said.

‘Distraught’ over father’s paintings

The family of the renowned artist Jack Heath said they are “distraught” that some of his paintings were affected by the flood.

Heath’s daughter, Jinny, said the Tatham Art Gallery stored her father’s paintings there for the last 15 years.

“And now they are drowned in water,” she said.

A clearly panicked and upset Heath said her father’s paintings had already started to buckle with the water damage.

“This really is a disaster. Was the Tatham just not that important to the municipality? Are they [the municipality] so ignorant?” asked Heath.

She said she will also dedicate her time to assist at the art gallery.

Tatham Art gallery closed indefinitely

Scheduled exhibitions and events at the gallery have also been postponed 


• The KZN Midlands Matric Art Exhibition

• The Music Revival Concert

• Film Club

• A function by Alliance Francais

• A talk by Alleyn Diesel

The gallery’s landline is not functional and you can contact Brendan Bell on 082 417 5187.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg

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