The Inspired Goatherd


Jairos Jiri’s compassion for the disabled was extraordinary: a hope to the afflicted and an inspiration to the community at large.   (photo The Rhodesia Herald, Oct 28, 1968)

The Inspired Goatherd

Born in 1921, Jairos Jiri was a Matebele from the Rozwi people, known for their craftsmanship, perhaps the builders of Great Zimbabwe.  Being the first born, he herded the family cattle instead of attending school.  He ran away at the age of twelve.  As a goatherd for two European women he earned three shillings a month.  They taught him the three R’s in the vernacular.

Eventually he moved to Bulawayo and joined the army.  He worked as a dishwasher for the RAF (Royal Air Force) during the war.  American soldiers told him they had special hospitals and associations to train the blind and the crippled.

The Inspired Goatherd

Working at a bottle store after WWII, he took in handicapped soldiers in his two-roomed location house.  As necessity arose, he transported them to Bulawayo’s Mpilo Hospital on the carrier of his bicycle for treatment.  Mr. Johannes du Plessis, the Compound manager recognized Jairos’ “committee of action” consisting of himself, a cousin and a friend.

Jairos raised money to show that blind people could be taught to help themselves.   He  arranged for a blind band to play to African audiences.  He sold newspapers in the mornings and soft drinks at weekend football matches.  He opened a stall on his veranda.  Arrested for illicit trading by the police, Mr. du Plessis quickly issued him with a license.

The municipality then gave Jairos a room in the township on three months probation. He immediately employed an old alcoholic cobbler.  Guided by him, Jairos acquired the equipment needed to set up shop on credit.  The first trainee was Josef Ncube, who was reluctant at first, as he was used to begging.  That was the beginning of Jairos’ training school.  He said “our experience is, so long as they have hands, they are able to do something.”

In 1955 his organization went national when it received a government grant.  He  left his job at the bottle store.  The municipality and the Beit Trust made donations.  Finally, with twenty thousand pounds and a grant of land, the association built its first center for training and housing more than one hundred adults and children in Bulawayo.

Assistance grew: from Oxfam, the State Lottery, Royal Commonwealth Society for the Blind and many individuals.  Five centers were built in the country with an annual budget of thirty-five thousand pounds.  One of these centers was in Gwelo, forty miles from Que Que.  Mom got permission for a contingent from Self Help to visit the Gwelo Center.



  • Tess Harris

    Reply Reply October 10, 2011

    We always visited the Jairos Jiri Centre on our annual trips to visit Mum and Dad in Bulawayo (they moved there in 1972). And at Christmas time you could bet that Mums present had been bought there! I still have my brown Mzilikazi pottery dinner ware collected over the years. Just have to remember not to put it in the dishwasher as the glaze tends to crack.

    Thanks for the memory!

    • Diana

      Reply Reply October 11, 2011

      Tess, lovely hearing from you again. Wonderful you are still reading. Yes, I think everyone wanted to support this really worthy cause, especially as it was initiated by an African. I remember the basketry especially. I can’t believe you still have the crockery! Some very colorful Zim dinnerware has been circulating in high end museum gift stores for quite a while….but at what a price! I’ve so admired it…done by Africans depicting African animals but I think its been discontinued. I believe Jairos Jiri has been closed down. A tragedy. Enjoy your dishes on special occasions. Diana

  • Nancy

    Reply Reply December 10, 2011

    No Jairos Jiri is very much alive. I visited their retail store in Mutare. Their work is not so good probably due to the economy and I think they could use a boost from volunteer product developers and other creative types. I plan to work with them when I return to Zimbabwe. In what capacity, I don’t know yet. But after reading your blog about Jairos himself we cannot let his hard work go to waste. I am inspired to do something. I was born just before independence and I have learned more about life in Rhodesia than I ever did at school. This blog is important, please keep it up. All the best!

    • Diana

      Reply Reply December 11, 2011

      Nancy, Thanks for the encouragement! Keep me posted on your experience in Zimbabwe with The Jairos Jiri Center and their product development. Their used to be a wonderful dinnerware service, all hand painted African scenes, very colorful that was sold in the high end gift stores at museums in the 80’s but is no longer available I understand. It was dishwasher and oven proof and really stunning. Bring it back into circulation! I am not sure who/what company was manufacturing it. The Basketry made by Kwe Kwe Crafts was of international standard when my mother started in the late 60’s, the difficulty was in getting a commitment from the girls to fill the orders in a timely fashion to satisfy the established overseas markets. I wish you every success.
      I have finished the novels based on our experience in Que Que 46-62 and am busy editing now.
      Stay in touch.

  • Jacqueline

    Reply Reply September 5, 2015

    I am seeking a set of the pottery dinner ware. Is the craft shop selling it as of 2015?

Leave A Response

* Denotes Required Field