4 countries should not forget this man


By DD Phiri:

The four countries are South Africa, Malawi, Zimbabwe and Namibia. The man they ought to remember is Clements Kadalie. I am writing this article on 17 January 2019 exactly 100 years after one of the greatest mass movements to have existed not only in South Africa but the whole of Africa was launched.

One day, a young lady secondary school teacher visited me at my office and asked for hints on the art of writing. She was particularly interested in biography. Though working in Blantyre, she was from Nkhata Bay. I asked her if she knew the name Clements Kadalie, she said she had not come across such a name before. Kedalie was born in 1893 in Chifira Village, Nkhata Bay, and educated at Livingstonia where he qualified as an English graded teacher.


The year 1915 is notable in the history of Malawi. It was the year John Chilembwe made an abortive attempt to make Nyasaland an independent country. It was the year a schoolboy at the Church of Scotland Chilanga Mission in Kasungu walked his way to Harare in search of higher education and work. He came back 43 years later, better known as Hasting Kamuzu Banda. In the year 1915, Kadelie left his home in Nkhata Bay and trekked southward till he reached the Cape of Good Hope and secured a job as a clerk, a rare achievement those days when such jobs were reserved for white people.

One day, he and fellow Nyasas were walking on the street while reading a newspaper, delighted that the British and their allies were driving the Kaisers armies to defeat. Kadalie felt someone kick him in the back. When he turned he saw that it was a white man in police uniform. Kadalie asked why, the policeman hit him with a baton stick so that he swaggered off. The offence Kadalie had committed was to walk on Cape Town’s paved streets which were reserved for white people.

A friendly Whiteman called A.F. Batty advised Kadalie to form a trade union to defend African workers. Kadalie did not know what a trade union was. He organised a meeting on January 17 1919 at which Batty explained what a trade union is. That day was born the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union of Africa, known in short as ICU.


In December 1919, Kadalie in collaboration with a leader of White Trade Union, called the first trade union strike which paralysed Cape Town. He continued to do so the following year when the white leader had given up. In November 1920, he was summoned to the police station and informed that he was a prohibited immigrant in South Africa and must go back to his country. Fortunately, there were influential Scotsmen in Cape Town, among them Sir Patrick Duncan, who got the deportation documents rescinded.

Within five years, the ICU spread to all parts of Southern Africa including Namibia and Zimbabwe. Between 1920 and 1950, the leader in South Africa was as influential as Kadalie. The South Africans have written to Heidi Holland in her book The struggle: A History of the African National Congress that the conference’s influence plunged during the 20s after a large proportion of its supporters decided to join a rival movement that showed more concern for the interest of black workers. Led by a school teacher and impressive orator from Nyasaland, Kadalie, the Industrial and commercial works union, chanting the slogan “Awake O Africa for the morning is at hand”, grew rapidly to a quarter of a million.

In 1927, Kadalie visited Europe and appealed to Dutch people and Austrians, whose descendants were oppressing Africans in South Africa, to treat Africans with justice and equality.

Kadalie did many great things in South Africa. Any book about South Africa’s history between 1920 and 1950 never omits to make reference to Kadalie. He died in East London on Wednesday November 28 1951, soon after a short visit to Chifira, his birth place. At his funeral, Professor D.D.T. Jabavu of Fort Hare said: “Here is a man, a genius born among the African people. Kadalie was able to lead a very organised and united big number of his people. He has left a heritage…”

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