The Impala Stampede

This morning, while sorting through some of my images for the artefacts website I tried to make sense of what we all knew as “The Oppenheimer Fountains”. People from Johannesburg who visited the CBD  from 1960 till roughly 1990 would remember those leaping Impala that were the centre point of the Ernest Oppenheimer Gardens which was behind the former Rissik Street post office, bordered by Joubert, President and Market Streets (Google Earth Co-ordinates 26° 12.252’S 28° 2.564’E) . It was a nice green space in a bustling city that was one large traffic jam until Saturday afternoons when it seemingly depopulated. 

The fountains looked like this. (Image from an old postcard) 

This was also the era of grand apartheid, so “non-whites” were probably excluded from entering or loitering in the park.  The space had benches and pathways and it was one of those places in Johannesburg that defined the city back then.

In 1960, the sculptor Herman Wald was commissioned by Harry Oppenheimer, to create a study of leaping impala, in memory of his father, the late Sir Ernest Oppenheimer.  However, by the late 1990’s the deterioration of the park and its use by informal traders as a storage area, meant that the park was no longer a safe or pleasant place to see or visit. Inevitably, vandalism took its toll and parts of the fountain were cut off, probably to be sold for scrap. Eventually what was left was completely removed and the city was left without one of its most recognisable icons. (https://www.hermanwald.com)

Wind forward to 2011 and we are now visiting the the Main Street precinct in the vicinity of the Anglo American offices where the Impala had been moved to. 

Unfortunately on both occasions when I saw the statue the water was not flowing. In Winter the statue had a tendency to ice up when the temperature dropped too low. 

And what about Ernest Oppenheimer Park?  The park was redeveloped, and a replacement statue for the Impala was created and it was officially re-opened by the Mayor of Johannesburg on 15 April 2011. The informal traders were no longer allowed to  leave their goods in the park as it was fenced and gated. The centre piece of the area is a rough-cut diamond crystal made of stainless steel and standing two metres tall.

Other artworks by local artists have also found a spot in the park and while it no longer looks the way it did, it became more representative of the ever changing city around it. (This was true up till 2011, I do not know what the situation is in 2021)

The Impala were re-imagined and installed on a concrete block where they can gaze at the passing traffic and be enjoyed by all while hopefully escaping the attention of the illicit scrap metal thieves. 

The rest of the park was very pleasant when I visited in 2011 and I hope that it has remained like this in 2021.

The small wooden object in the right hand corner of the image above is a representation of the former Rissik Street post office which was in an appalling state when we were there. 

Former Rissik Street Post office in 2011

I believe that the condition of the post office has improved but I have not seen any images to confirm or deny it.  There is also a representation of the original Standard theatre which stood on this site way back when Johannesburg was young. 

DRW © 2021. Created 24/08/2021

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