Clements Kadalie

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Clements Kadalie (1896-1951) was South Africa's first black national trade union leader.


Clements Kadalie was born in April 1896 in Nkhata Bay District at Chifira village near the Bandawe mission station in Nyasaland, presently Malawi. He was the second born son of Mr. and Mrs. Musa Kadalie Muwamba. He was the grandson of Chiweyu, a paramount chief of the Tonga of Nyasaland. Educated by Church of Scotland missionaries, Kadalie completed teacher training in 1912. After a short stint of primary school teaching, Kadalie in early 1915 joined the stream of Nyasalanders seeking employment in neighboring South Africa.

In 1918 Kadalie settled in Cape Town. Here he befriended Arthur F. Batty, an emerging trade unionist and political activist. With Batty's advice Kadalie in early 1919 founded the Industrial and Commercial Union (ICU), later renamed the Industrial and Commercial Workers' Union of Africa, to protest against unfair labour laws and to protect workers’ rights.

The ICU spread in the mid-twenties throughout South Africa until by 1927 it could boast a membership of one hundred thousand - the largest trade union ever to have taken root in the continent of Africa. Kadalie headed the ICU from its inception in 1919 until his resignation as national secretary in 1929.

In December 1919, Kadalie gained prominence with the success of the dockworker's strike, which prevented the export of all goods through Cape Town Harbour facilities. The dockworker's strike lasted fourteen...
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