We start our journey down the Marimba River at the source of its eastern tributary, where fed by a series of dambos, it starts as a mere trickle at the University of Zimbabwe. This section of the river is also known as the Avondale Stream, though recent maps of Harare make no mention of this name. From there it heads south via Avondale shopping centre where it passes directly by the sculptors and other crafts people, and runs through a narrow channel through to Kensington Shopping Centre. Then out it flows into the Monavale vlei, where an accumulated residue of waste is filtered out by the expansive wetland.
“This is a quiet river, flowing almost throughout the year,” observes Chris Pocock, owner of Villa Musika, a market styled shop situated along the banks of the river just below Kensington Shopping Centre.
The river is critical for the role it plays in draining off water from Harare’s central suburbs, as well as carrying water discharged from a network of wetlands, notes Dorothy Wakeling of Conservation Society of Monavale (COSMO) Trust.
This thread of a river creates an ecosystem of a size and intricacy rivalling any in the country. The white-faced duck (or whistling duck) perch like statues, silhouetted by short vlei grass feeding off underwater tubers and seeds of aquatic plants. Rare birds nests in the plains of the vlei in summer, small mammals make their homes there.
“Some rainy seasons are exceptional and the river swells, flooding many parts of the Monavale wetland and sometimes inundating the nearby Sherwood golf-course as it spreads for many kilometres on either side of the wetland,” says Barbara Vitoria, a resident of Monavale.
Heading further southwest the river merges with a stream flowing from Meyrick Park wetland and through the National Sports Stadium wetland. Fuelled and strengthened, the river continues south through the high-density suburbs of Warren Park and Kambuzuma, through to Marimba. Here it gains an entirely new character, with heavy deposits of sewage and industrial waste, as it makes its final journey to Lake Chivero.
Businessman and chairman of Lake Chivero Users Association and a resident of Belvedere, Shiraz Kassam, says the river is a major transporter of water from the city of Harare to Lake Chivero, and as such it must be preserved at all costs.
“Developments along the banks of rivers such as the Avondale and the Marimba Rivers bring negative impacts to a natural system that is supposed to save our water sources,” said Kassam.
According to Professor Sarah Feresu of the Institute of Environmental Studies (IED) at the UZ, rivers like the Marimba are being sacrificed by development and water bodies are being degraded by sewage and industrial waste.
With most of the City of Harare sewage works overloaded, the quality of water that flows into Lake Chivero is heavily compromised. As a result Harare is faced with major pollution control challenges due to the high cost of operating and maintaining old, in some cases, heavy mechanical plants.
While the issue of resources has been touted as the greatest obstacle to preserving the course of the river, human activities that contribute to the pollution also need to be addressed.