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School of Social and Political Science: Graduate school


Henry Mitchell

Henry Mitchell
Henry Mitchell
African Studies School of Social and Political Science University of Edinburgh
Edinburgh UK EH8 9LD
Research Interests
South Africa, Malawi, Britain, Labour History, Transnational History

PhD Title

'The Uncrowned King of the Black Masses': The Life and Work of Clements Kadalie, c. 1896-1951


Through Clements Kadalie's numerous public speeches and essays, this PhD  focuses on the intellectual biography of Southern Africa's first leading black trade unionist. Using articles in The Workers' HeraldLabour MonthlyNegro Champion, Foreign Affairs and The Messenger  alongside his posthumously published autobiography My Life and the ICU, it looks at Kadalie as an orator and a trans-Atlantic public intellectual, reconceptualising ideas of race and class. Kadalie and his trade union, the Industrial and Commercial Workers' Union of Africa (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 Southern 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 the 'colour bar', presenting a far greater threat to colonial rule than the African National Congress (ANC).

Throughout the interwar years, 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 catalyse '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 to Cape Town, Johannesburg and London. 

Publications and Reviews

''I am a bad native': Black masculinity and marriage in the biographies of Clements Kadalie', African Studies, (forthcoming).

‘Central African imigrants, 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, 70:2 (2018).

'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, 44:3 (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, 93 (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, 42:1 (2016).