- Henry Mitchell
- Edinburgh UK EH8 9LD
- Research Interests
- South Africa, Malawi, Britain, Labour History, Transnational History
On 16th December 1929, Clements Kadalie strode through the streets of Johannesburg backed by a 4,000-strong rally and jazz band blasting out the workers' anthem, the Red Flag.
Taking Kadalie's speeches and writing (from articles in The Workers' Herald, Labour Monthly, Foreign Affairs and The Messenger to his posthumously published autobiography My Life and the ICU), and what - in turn - political rivals and the state wrote about him, this PhD explores numerous such protests to recreate an intellectual biography of Southern Africa's first leading black trade unionist. It looks at Kadalie as an orator and public intellectual, agitating for workers' rights. Adopting subversive techniques and technologies - the handbill, pamphlet and newspaper, the mass rally and strike, the jazz band and workers' hall - Kadalie and his trade union, the ICU, presented a serious challenge to imperial and capitalist structures in the aftermath of WWI. In the words of George Padmore, Kadalie became 'the uncrowned king of the black masses'.
Mission-educated by Scots during his early life in Malawi, Kadalie migrated south, through Mozambique, first to Zimbabwe in 1915 and then on to South Africa in 1918. In January 1919 he helped found the Industrial and Commercial Workers' Union (ICU), South Africa's first major black trade union in Cape Town, drawing members from across the town's diverse demographic - from African dockers to British trade unionists and Afro-Caribbean stevedores. By the mid-1920s he had risen to become an 'African Xavier', mobilising South Africans in their hundreds of thousands, demanding minimum wages, the abolition of the pass laws and the end of 'colour bars' on certain jobs, presenting a far greater threat to colonial rule than the African National Congress (ANC).
Throughout the radical 1920s, Kadalie's creative mobility meant he came into contact with and drew on diverse figures from across the Atlantic world - Booker T Washington, Henry George, Roland Greene Usher, Robert G Ingersoll, A Philip Randolph, WEB Du Bois and Jack London from the US; Marcus Garvey from the Caribbean; Robert Owen and Kier Hardie from Britain - and intertwined the ideas of anarcho-syndicalism, socialism and communism; imperial liberalism, feminism and pacifism; and internationalism, pan-Africanism and African nationalism, to explain 'the rise of African labour' and assert his own idea of freedom.
Investigating how Kadalie engaged with these diverse, radical anti-capitalist networks, the thesis - funded by the Economic and Social Resrach Council - tracks Kadalie's life between Chifira village in northern Malawi where he grew up with an uncle in Eliot Kamwana's rapidly expanding Watch Tower movement, to Cape Town (the Left Bank of South Africa), Johannesburg (the babylon at the heart of industrialising Southern Africa), and London (the imperial metropolis).
'Drama, debauchery and inappropriate disclosure in the biographies of Clements Kadalie', African Studies, (forthcoming).
'Immigrant Nyasas, imperial citizenship and the politics of free movement in interwar South Africa, c.1918-1939', Journal of Southern African Studies, (forthcoming).
'Nyasa Leaders, Christianity and African Internationalism in 1920s Johannesburg', South African Historical Journal, (forthcoming).
'Late colonial crises and their post-colonial legacies in Malawi: Kings M. Phiri, John McCracken and Wapulumuka O. Mulwafu (eds), Malawi in Crisis: The 1959/60 Nyasaland State of Emergency and its Legacy (Zomba, Kachere Books, 2012)', Journal of Southern African Studies, (2018).
'When “the world came to Scotland”: student radicals at Edinburgh University, 1906-1946', Scottish Critical Heritage, (2018).
'‘Enemy of the African Workers’: General Agent SM Bennett Ncwana', The Journalist, (2017).
'‘We Have Nothing in Common with Blantyre Natives’: Immigration, Internationalism and the Nation in South Africa’', Edinburgh University Centre of African Studies blog (2017).
'Dr Goonam: South African Medic, Feminist, Indian Nationalist, Freedom Fighter (1906-1999)', Edinburgh University Centre of African Studies blog (2016),
'Dr Agnes Yewande Savage – West Africa’s First Woman Doctor (1906-1964)', Edinburgh University Centre of African Studies blog (2016).
'Landscape, Water and Belonging in Southern Zimbabwe: Joost Fontein, Remaking Mutirikwi: Landscape, Water and Belonging in Southern Zimbabwe (Woodbridge, James Currey, 2015)', Journal of Southern African Studies, (2016).