Zoo Lake Bowling Club shut down, barricaded

24 December 2014 - 11:53 By Jan Bornman

The Zoo Lake Bowling Club, a Johannesburg institution for 80 years, was shut down this week, depriving patrons of what has been called a microcosm of the new South Africa.

The club was a "wonderful gathering place", said club secretary Stephan Hardie.

It attracted a variety of people, including professionals, students, actors and artists.

The renowned place of vibrant comradeship was barricaded this week; club and caterers exiled thanks to an eviction order obtained by the building's owners, the Johannesburg Property Company (JPC).

Hardie, a labour lawyer, asked why the entity had forced the eviction just before Christmas. He said the JPC had also not been clear on what it planned to do with the premises.

One of the regulars upset about the taps running dry is Jamie Bartlett, an actor on local soapie Rhythm City. He said the closure was a tragedy.

"I feel scoured inside. From my point of view, there isn't a place anywhere in South Africa like the bowls club," Bartlett said.


The culture of community made "the bowling club the signature place it is, never to be repeated. It is going to leave a hole in Johannesburg."

Bartlett recalled watching "wonderful" Highveld thunderstorms come and go, and how he made a bunch of friends while frequenting the club for nearly a decade.

Frequent patron Bruce Fordyce, 59, who won the Comrades a record nine times, said it was a shame that the club had finally been closed.

"It just seems like such a pity because it was working so beautifully. Whatever they plan to do there in the future must be extremely exciting otherwise it would seem like such as waste," he said.

Fordyce said the relaxed atmosphere, the beautiful views from the club's patio, the good, cheap food and the interesting people - "from students to actors to sportsmen and -women" - had made the club unique.

"I've been going there for about 10 years, and I always enjoyed watching sport there," said Fordyce.


The club's closure puts 30 people out of work in the week before Christmas.

One of them is David Mokgomola, 51, a greens keeper at the club for the past 28 years.

Mokgomola said that if the club did not reopen soon, he would have to return to his home in Tzaneen to join his wife, who is also jobless, and six children aged 12 to 22.

Johannesburg Property Company executive manager Fanis Sardianos said the club's lease had expired, and that was why it was evicted.

He said a new tender would be advertised, and the JPC planned to include other sports at the venue.

The entity did not say if the Zoo Lake Bowling Club would close down permanently or open under another guise.

Club captain Ronnie Veitch said it would be a shame if the club shut down for good.

"We'd like to be in negotiations with the [company] in order to preserve a facility that is used by the public, no matter their colour or creed," he said.

"We are halfway through the [bowls] season, and currently at the top of our league."

Veitch said he had to make arrangements for the club to continue its season, using other venues for its home games.

Ironically, the club's most famous moment was in 1976 when it hosted the World Bowls Tournament, at which South Africa won all four titles.