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Zoo Lake Park

Zoo Lake

The Zoo Lake is situated in Saxonwold and is formally known as the Herman Eckstein Park. 

Zoo Lake circa 1968

A colourful historical story told by David Gurney:

The small square island behind the lady with the hat was used as a stage for the performance of Swan Lake starring Dame Margot Fonteyn in October 1956. There is a lovely story in Percy Tuckers book "Just the Ticket".

Fonteyn had five performances booked at His Majesty's and all tickets were sold out, with a waiting list of thousands. With all the seats sold out....we had an emergency meeting ... and wrote to Fonteyn pleading for her to come earlier or stay longer. She was able to offer one extra performance and an inspirational idea was conceived: build a stage on the Zoo Lake, the perfect setting for Swan lake, and erect a grandstand that could accommodate at least 6 000 people.

The plan was carried out and the tickets were sold in a matter of hours. Also for this performance, blocks were set aside for school bookings, giving many youngsters an experience they would never forget.

By 7:15 on 20 October, six thousand expectant people were seated at Zoo Lake. The waiting stage in the Lake was bathed in moonlight, as were the resident swans gliding in the water around it. Then, over this scene of sheer enchantment, the heavens opened in a typical Johannesburg cloudburst which lasted for fully half an hour. NOBODY MOVED. It was really quite astonishing. The audience waited patiently, determined they would not be denied their special occasion.

Patience was rewarded. Council workers set to work drying the stage, the dancers inspected it, and at last the orchestra struck up. The reaction to this announcement, and a roar that went up. Fonteyn was received with applause so rapturous as to eclipse even her opening at His Majesty's.

I was backstage with Jeremy Schulman when, after their tenth curtain call Margot, aware that many of the audience were school kids, said, "They're so wonderful - and so wet. Lets do it again". I ran out to witness the reaction to this announcement, and the roar that went up could only be compared to the noise at a World Cup rugby final. The temporary stands almost overturned under the stamping feet.

That night has lived on for all who were present, and even now I can't drive past Zoo Lake without reliving it.


In 1904 the land which includes both Zoo Lake and the Johannesburg Zoo was ceded by means of a Deed of Gift..."in trust for the inhabitants of Johannesburg...to be used for the purpose of a public park" by Werner Beit Company - part of the Corner House group of companies, which later became known as Rand Mines.

The history of Zoo Lake is best described by The Johannesburg heritage Foundation's blue heritage plaque which was installed in the Park as part of their important programme to identify and recognise the diverse sites of heritage importance in Johannesburg.

In 1890 Eduard Lippert established a forest, known as the Sachsenwald, on part of the farm Braamfontein.  Part of this was given to the people of Johannesburg in 1904 for the specific use as a public park and named 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.

During the Apartheid years the government was unable to restrict access to this park to all races by virtue of the wording contained within the Deed of Gift and during this time all the citizens of Johannesburg were able to enjoy the park. Its history of resistance is celebrated to this day.

All in all, the Zoo Lake covers an area of some 46,6 hectares. Most of the park was a wet land and evidence of that can still be seen today.  The forest of blue gum trees were allegedly planted to soak up the water that runs close to the surface on the eastern boundary.

The Coronation Fountain was built in 1937 to commemorate the coronation of King George VI. This fountain continues to play every day. 

The first boating licence was awarded in 1911, and every weekend the lake is dotted with happy boaters. 

The Bowling Club and Sports Club were established in the early'30's. The land was donated to the city by Herman Eckstein who stated that the park around the lake should be “a Park for the People”. Zoo Lake is therefore a place where people representing all races, cultures and creeds can be together in harmony with nature 

The Zoo Lake has a publicly appointed committee to help the City administer the park, called the Zoo Lake Users Committee (ZLUC). Their motto is "A Clean, Green and Safe Park". The current chief executive is Fran Haslam.

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