Literally inside the Glen Norah dam : How it became water impoverished

City of Harare Spokesperson, Mr Michael Chideme

By Kudakwashe Pembere

IT is the general consensus of visitors and nearby community that this desolate is visually unappealing. Virtually all that know the dam complain of a dam laid to waste.

Aerial view of the dried up dam where residents have resorted to cultivating

It is an investigation which took this reporter about two to three years witnessing water leaking from the dam or several patches of water until there was none. The initial findings were that it was on the back of silt and plastics chocking the life out of the dam.

Extensive reportage of construction on wetlands has been done with the City of Harare and housing co-operatives accussed of giving people stands in wetlands.

Wetlands are areas where water is the primary factor controlling the environment and the associated plant and animal life. They occur where the water table is at or near the surface of the land, or where the land is covered by shallow water.

Wetlands act as natural purifiers in as much as clean water is concerned. By invading
such wetlands , there has been direct flows of contaminated water into water bodies
such as Lake Chivero.

Zimbabwe is a signatory to several conventions such as the Ramsar Convention.  According to the Ramsar Convention (Article 1.1), Wetlands are areas of marsh, fern, peat-land or water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary, with water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish or salt, including areas of marine water the depth of which at low tide does not exceed six metres.

The convention in summary advocates for the conservation and wise use of wetlands, primarily as habitat for water-birds.

Over time however,the Convention has broadened its scope to cover all aspects of wetland conservation and wise use, recognising wetlands as ecosystems that are extremely important for biodiversity conservation and for the well being of human communities.

Being a United Nations member, the country signed up for the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. In this case two SDGs can be directly linked to this water starved wetland.

The first one is SDG 14 which speaks to life below water. The dilapidation of Glen Norah dam shows complete ignorance of this SDG.

Secondly, SDG13 promotes Climate action in the face of negative effects such as flooding which destroyed the damguard or damwall.

While construction is taking place in several wetlands across Zimbabwe, farming has begun inside Glen Norah dam.

That water is life was an apt depiction of the once lush Glen Norah dam located inside the Glen Norah Park. Climate change and human negligence resulted in this dam impoverished of water.

Human negligence in this case is bipartite in that the City of Harare is according to locals, “busy increasing rates but not maintaining its areas of reaction.” Secondly, the community is also to blame for turning the wetland into a farm as well as not raising the alarm.

A Shona vernacular proverb which goes , “Aiva madziva ava mazambuko” or Pools are now bridges, has turned literal. Inside Glen Norah Dam one can cross from one side to the other. A hundred metre race is possible.

Seven children between ages five and eight take turns to do somersaults inside the dried up wetland. They feel their landing inside that space won’t be hurtful as the spot is a bit soft like landing on a mattress.

One quizzes me, “Did you see me do that? If you want me to do even more spectacular moves, give me $ZWL10 bond (US$0,10),” says the seven year old named Aiden. “We come here almost every day having fun doing these spins.”

While kids are using the inside of the dam as a recreation area, some misguided teens or adolescents have turned it an open defecation site. One adolescent ran away after I caught him in the process.

Laws forbidding farming on wetlands have been disregarded by the community folk who, upon seeing the dam had dried up, started farming.

This year in April, this reporter caught a break in his investigation as he found only identified as Tinashe, this man with sugarbeans grown inside the dam. Disguised as a visitor, I was chatting with Tinashe who revealed that when the dam wall/dam guard or the weak spot of the dam gave in to massive rains in the 2020-2021 rainy season, they saw an opportunity to grow various crops.

“This dam has silt and weeds which I think contributed to the dam’s demise. The other issue is the area which burst and resulted in water leaking. That weak spot started as a small crack until it widened after the 2020-21 rains,” he said.
The elderly living near that wetland also find the sight unsettling.

“The dam has always been there as part of Baxter’s farm. People used to catch fish in that dam. The neglect then started and you know with our unconcerned ward counsellor and MPs the dam was left dying,” said Sekuru Chabata.
He gave a brief history of Glen Norah.

“The Rhodesian government in the 60s bought Baxter’s land and transformed it into a residential area now called Glen Norah A. Just close to Glen Norah Park was where they took their building materials. A company named Cisk was contracted to build the houses,” said Sekuru Chabata. “They used to get water from that dam.”

Mr Francis Nechironga another elderly based in the UK grew up in Glen Norah. He called on the community to organise themselves and maintain the park and the dam.

“It is typical of Zimbabweans privileged with office jobs that they sit in their offices, demanding and hiking rates for residents yet they fail to maintain their recreational facilities.

Growing up in Glen Norah, we would come to this dam frequently playing games, fishing and enjoying picnics by the dam shore serenaded by birds chirping and the sound of water,” said the UK based Zimbabwean.

City Fathers were indeed ignorant to the dam’s health. Of the Park maintenance, they deserve some slack for they intermittently cut the grass.

Admitting the depressing state of the Park and the dam, Harare City spokesperson Mr Michael Chideme ‘s alibi was that they did not have enough resources to maintain it.

“Glen Norah park is owned by the City of Harare. Its a City of Harare baby. But the city has been looking for partners after realising we do not have enough resources to manage all the parks in the City. ”

“The partnership that we want is one that benefits the people of Glen Norah, and Highfields where they can have an area to relax, to play and get pictures, a wedding venue. And also to reclaim the dam in Glen Norah. We are still looking for partners to rescuscitate the park and drying dam,” he told this publication.

He said they have by-laws to regulate and protect wetlands.

“The city is for the preservation of wetlands because we realise their importance in the urban ecosystem. Wetlands act as water purifiers. Wetlands act as tourist attractions because when that park was functional there used to be game and a lot of birdlife in that area.”

“So wetlands are very important for us because they aid the urban ecosystem.”

“They make the urban environment of an ecosystem sustainable. We are as much as possible working to protect the remaining wetlands and where possible, resuscitate wetlands that can be resuscitated,” he said.

With locals arguing that they started farming after realising the neglect leading to the drying up of the dam, the City according to Mr Chideme finds it savage to displace these new farmers.

“Because of the need to have food sustenance in the City, sometimes when people have already planted it becomes inhumane to remove such crops. But our aim is that in the future they won’t grow anything on that wetland and park. Once the park is resuscitated then it means there won’t be such activity in that park,” he said.

Environmental Management Agency (EMA), Harare Province Environmental Impact Assessment and Ecosystems Protection Officer Mr Gilbert Mugunzva also weighed in on the issue of wetlands.

“As far as we are concerned, there are several activities which contribute to wetland depletion. One of them being agriculture and the other one being construction. As far as we are concerned these activities are not in sync with the best practises of wetland protection. Construction in wetlands should be stopped. Agriculture in wetlands should be stopped,” he said.

With EMA being the environmental watchdog responsible for ensuring that wetlands are protected, Mr Mugunzva stated Glen Norah dam’s final thrill can be attributed to various factors including climate change.

“Of late we haven’t been receiving good rains and because of these persistent droughts linked to climate change, most of the wetlands seem to be drying up. But not necessarily meaning they are no longer in existence,” he said.

Part of the dam where children now use as a playing field
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