new blue plaque for Zoo Lake

In December 2021, the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation and Fran Haslam of the Zoo Lake welcomed the installation of a second blue plaque at the Zoo Lake to commemorate its centenary. It was a welcome vote of confidence and gesture of support to be supported in this venture by Eric Itzkin of Johannesburg City Heritage.

The new plaque was installed on an original giant quartzite rock to give it greater prominence and visibility. It is a fitting tribute to this much loved and well-used Johannesburg beauty spot, which has been open to the people of Joburg for over a century.

Zoo Lake Rocks waiting for their blue plaque / Blue plaque installed

The words of the blue plaque read: Zoo Lake Centenary 1906 – 2006. In 1890, Eduard Lippert established a forest, known as the Sachsenwald, on part of the farm Braamfontein. In 1904, part of Sachsenwald was given to the people of Johannesburg for specific use as a public park and named the ‘Herman Eckstein Park’ after a leading mining pioneer. In 1906, the City Council built a lake on this section, which was marshland. It immediately became a major attraction and has continued, particularly throughout the apartheid years, to be a source of great pleasure to all the people of Johannesburg.

The original Zoo Lake Centenary blue plaque

It is often forgotten that there are actually two other blue plaques placed against the Zoo Lake Boat House. These two plaques date back to 1986 when they were installed as part of a series of 100 blue plaques to mark the city’s centenary. Featuring text in English and Afrikaans, these JHB 100 plaques marked the most visible and popular historical landmarks of the City of Johannesburg and were erected by the Simon van der Stel Foundation in collaboration with the Parktown and Westcliff Heritage Trust (forerunner of the current Johannesburg Heritage Foundation). Now, some 35 years later, the JHF has once again embraced the blue plaques concept as a popular and instantly recognizable symbol of heritage in the City.

The older blue plaques erected in 1986

The Zoo Lake has a long history of serving Johannesburg. It’s been a much-appreciated green lung for generations and a prime amenity for the nearby suburbs of Parkview, Parkwood and Saxonwold, but it’s never been an exclusive park. It is there for all to enjoy and is a Joburg equivalent of the great parks of London and Paris (such as Hyde Park or the Tuileries garden). As such, the Zoo Lake is a place for picnics, art in the park, music festivals and public concerts, fetes and other celebrations. Jazz on the Lake and Carols by Candlelight are just two popular seasonal events that draw large crowds. There is also the eternally popular Zoo Lake sports club and a Zoo lake swimming pool, in addition to the Children’s playground.

On any given day around the lake, joggers walk, friends braai and families meet for sun-filled reunions. Children delight in feeding the ducks. There are sellers of balloons and candy floss wandering through the trees. Pleasure boats are available for a paddle on the lake.  And a walk around the lake inevitably brightens one’s day. In short, the Zoo lake is a Joburg institution.

Recently, a series of beautiful mosaic artworks have been installed along the pathway on the eastern side of the Zoo Lake, sponsored by the Zoo Lake User’s committee. Another life enhancing positive.

We welcome the new blue plaque and thank the City of Johannesburg for coming out for the occasion. It is a ray of hope for 2022.

Boating on the Lake – the Coronation Fountain in the background was built in 1937 to celebrate the coronation of King George VI of England, father of the present queen

A hopeful balloon vendor and hungry ducks waiting audaciously for some bread crumbs (recently the duck population has soared and they are becoming a bit of a scourge!)

The beautiful mosaics installed by the Zoo Lake Users’ Committee


Words by Kathy Munro

Mosaic photos Diana Steele

All other photos by Kathy Munro

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