By Prof. Ross G. Cooper
Built in the early 20th Century, Cleveland Dam was the first storage reservoir supplying Salisbury, Mashonaland. It was constructed on the Mukuvisi River 10km east of the capital. Due to its small capacity, it lost its supply role to the much more voluminous Lake McIlwaine and Kyle Dam, and instead became a pleasant recreational facility located in Cleveland Park. The sunshine reflecting off the granite quartz created a bright, enchanting venue.
In the 1970s-1980s, it had a nice, illuminated entrance of cemented rocks and its tarred drive ran parallel to the Harare-Bulawayo Road within a long avenue of fur trees. The large pine cones thereof were often collected as souvenirs or to add as fuel to braaivleis fires. The ample and impressive granite outcrops allowed excellent places to have social gatherings, natural seating and provided exciting rock climbs for the kids. However, with the escalation of attacks on bank fishermen at Lake McIlwaine during the latter stages of the war in 1978-79, visitors to Cleveland Dam became less frequent and certainly armed. After independence in 1980, there was a sudden resurgence of enthusiasts and I remember enjoying many a weekend there with my paternal grandparents or a visit with my mother. I could climb up large granite boulders by hanging onto tree branches and, once at the top, gaze out across the dam, the wall of which was dead straight and walkable. Bata tackies gave good feet grips. Like Ballantyne Park dams, it was a superb place to fish for bream, barbel and bass. Rowing and sailing boats bobbed on the dam surface rocked by gentle waves. To the left of the entrance, there was a small rifle range protected by a huge wall of granite rock from an abandoned quarry. The shade provided by the mopane and msasa trees growing amongst the rocks made picnics very pleasant. The area was the site of many memorable romances. Unfortunately towards the late 1980s, this isolated beauty spot was targeted by criminals and some people were robbed at knifepoint whilst others had car break-ins. The well-reported murder of a praying pastor and theft of his car there in the mid-1990s gave the impression that the place was very dangerous and visits virtually ceased. However, the subsequent establishment of better security and patrols encouraged people to return to enjoy the park’s natural geography, flora and fauna including the multitude of insects, birds, rock-rabbits and monkeys, whilst basking in the warm sunshine.
Building a fire to braai meat (steak, pork, chicken or fish), boerewors and maize cobs, added to a plate generously piled with sadza, coleslaw and bean or potato salad, whilst sipping cool drinks or beer, and surrounded by granite rocky enclaves, with the crunch of dry seed pods and lichen-encrusted twigs underfoot, was a truly enjoyable, unforgettable and remarkable experience for those wishing to have a weekend break away from the city. Other enjoyable pastimes included sipping brewed tea or Royco tomato, beef or chicken soup heated in a pot over a fire, and eating sandwiches and biscuits. Over the years there were a few 10km sponsored running races and marathons started from Cleveland Dam in addition to local outward bound and Boy Scouts’ courses. School trips of all ages were and are still numerous and designed to study the granite rock formations from volcanic lava flows millions of years ago and the subsequent slow effects of erosion thereon. Hopefully, this wonderful site can be preserved and enjoyed for eternity.
The author, Ross Gordon Cooper, writes books exploring the exciting and diverse experiences, and life in Rhodesia and Zimbabwe, and are available at Lulu Press Ltd. and PneumaSprings Press Ltd.