Malawi’s contributions to Southern Africa (II)

In 1912, Pixley Ka Izaka (sic) Seme, a lawyer who had studied in the United States and Britain, summoned a conference to Bloemfontein which formed the South African Native National Congress. It was renamed the African National Congress (ANC) in 1923. The founders and leaders were firm believers in Christian liberal values and western ideals of progress. They did not want to overthrow the white society in South Africa but simply to be accepted by it. Reasoned petitions and deputations were thus their preferred methods of political action.

vi. The rise and fall of the ICU: In 1919, an African migrant worker from Nyasaland (now Malawi) Clements Kadalie launched a new movement. This was the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union, generally known as ICU. It began by fostering strikes in the ports of the Eastern Cape but from 1923, developed into a nationwide mass movement. As it did so, however, it faced a problem of how to use its apparent strength in the face of an overwhelmingly powerful and ruthless white government which refused any concessions.

I have written a short biography of Clements Kadalie titled ‘I See You: The man South Africa, Malawi, Zimbabwe and Namibia should not forget’. The following quotations should be noted:

(i) A west Indian pan-Africanist George Padmore and friend of Dr Kwame Nkrumah in his book Pan-Africanism or Communism wrote of Kadalie. An able organiser Kadalie, although he could not speak any of the South African Bantu languages and always spoke in fluent English which had to be translated, was able within next to no time to sweep aside all the Bantu leaders of the African National Congress. He became the uncrowned king of black masses. No other Negro in recent South African history has enjoyed the popularity which was Kadalie’s at the height of his power.

(ii) Heidi Holland, in her book the Struggle: A History of the African National Congress, wrote: “Congress’s influence plunged during the 1920s after a large proportion of its supporters deserted to join a rival movement that showed more concern for the interests of black workers than those of the small black elite. Led by a school teacher and impressive orator from Nyasaland, Clements Kadalie, the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union had first attracted support in 1919. Its membership chanting a slogan: “Awaken O Africa, for the morning is at hand” grew rapidly to a quarter of a million.

(iii) Jordan K Ngubane, a Zulu writer in his book An African Explains Apartheid, wrote: “The ICU differed from ANC in one important respect; its leaders were not drawn from the respectable classes. They had come straight from the ranks of the workers themselves, and they had a ruggedness and militancy that men accustomed to making obeisance before authority found outrageous. They stated that moderate speeches and pious resolutions would never make any impression on a government determined to ensure that the white man remains master regardless of merit. Confrontation with the slave owner was the motto. Those whom white domination had crushed and left in despair saw their hopes reviving when they beheld the effectiveness of the ICU line.”

(iv) Death and tribute: In October 1951, Kadalie visited his home country, including his village Chifira in Nkhata Bay. He had plans to retire from his activities and return to settle in Lilongwe. On his return to South Africa, he died suddenly on November 28 1951 at home in East London, Cape Province.

The Bantu Mirror, based in Bulawayo and one of the two weekly newspapers that were widely read in Central Africa published the following tributes that leading South Africans made at Kadalie’s funeral in East London.

Professor D.D.T. Jabavu of Fort Hare University said: “Here is a man, a genius born among African people. He led people of lower groups and made them fight for their salvation. They followed him with all loyalty in their thousands. He has left a heritage. Today, we know that black people can be organised and united.”

More can be read about the amazing career of Kadalie in the short biography I wrote, available in bookshops  and also from the author on telephone number 01872357.


7. What about the Malawi Government under Kamuzu Banda?

 In the book History of Malawi Volume 2, we read that Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda, then prime minister of Malawi, attended a conference of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in July 1964. At that meeting, he said openly that he would not cut off communication with white rulers of Mozambique, Southern Rhodesia and South Africa because to do so would be to cut the throat of Malawi or words to this effect.

He said he was in full sympathy with fellow Africans who in southern Africa were still struggling for freedom. Did Kamuzu Banda do anything to assist these freedom fighters? Most likely.

When Dr Nelson Mandela came out of jail in 1990, one of the first things he did was to visit a number of heads of State who had given assistance to members of the ANC in exile. He visited Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania and so on. He also visited the President of Malawi, Dr Kamuzu Banda, to say ‘Thank You’. What sort of help did Dr Banda give, we do not know. It was offered behind the scenes.

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