Historically the Causeway River was a lifeline – it offered a reliable supply of water that helped to establish Harare (Salisbury as it was known then) and the nation of Zimbabwe.
The stream rises near the present day State House and has a wide catchment area. Assisted by heavy rains that normally fall in Harare, it fills rapidly and usually remains full throughout the rainy season.
The Causeway River was once known as ‘The Place of Buffalo’ because so many animals came down to the shallows to find water and browse on the grassy plains. The area at the time of the founding of the city was poorly drained and the earliest developments were on sloping ground along the left bank of the stream. The first area to be drained was near the head of the stream and was named Causeway (meaning a raised way through a marsh or water) as a result. In the ’60s a tunnel was built that channelled many cubic metres of water downstream towards the Mukuvisi River. This area is now the site of the most important government buildings that include the parliament building and the offices of the President.
According to historian Howard Hensman, in the early days Harare was not a town at all but merely a mining camp built around a semi-military fort. For some unexplained reason the British South Africa Company did not take steps to form a town in the orthodox manner until August 1891, eleven months after the arrival of the Pioneer Column. It was a while before the exact location of the town was decided on and with things in this state no-one would of course build houses or shops of a substantial nature when they might find that after all, the town was to be in a different location.
The Company however, had never been thoroughly satisfied with the site and about twelve months later a new town near the Kopje was surveyed adjoining the old one and the stream was straddled between the twin developments.
Zimbabwe National Water Authority, Manyame Catchment Area Hydrologist, Graham Mugati, says not many studies have been done on the stream or its catchment area despite the stream’s significance. This is perhaps because the stream is now completely under tarmac and buildings.
“Most people look at it as a stream that only drains off water from Harare, but its importance as a water source cannot be overemphasised,” said Mugati.
He explains that the ingenuity and precise engineering that was used in the construction of the tunnel that channels the water to the Mukuvisi shows that the stream is critical to the riverine system of Harare.