Detail van ‘n 1920 ICU briefhoof (Foto met die vergunning van Killie Campbell Manuscripts, Universiteit of KwaZulu-Natal)

Die Industrial and Commercial Workers’ Union of Africa (ICU) en sy charismatiese leier, Clements Kadalie, het die Suider-Afrikaanse politieke landskap van die 1920’s oorheers. Die beweging het ‘n wye spektrum van opposisie teen die gevestigde orde getoon. Vanaf ‘n nederige begin in Kaapstad in 1919 het die ICU gedurende die daaropvolgende tien jaar ongekende getalle swart werkers gewerf.

Links:  Clements Kadalie op die voorblad van “Lansbury’s Labour Weekly”, 12 Maart 1927 (foto met vergunning van die Britse Biblioteek) – Regs: ‘n Pamflet wat ‘n Oktober 1924 ICU vergadering in Johannesburg adverteer

Die beweging is aanvanklik beïnvloed deur die “Garveyitiese” idees van Marcus Garvey, die Jamaikaanse swart nasionalis en separatis. . In Suid-Afrika het die ICU so ‘n bedreiging vir die gevestigde orde geword dat dit dikwels debatte in die wit parlement gedurende daardie dekade oorheers het, met die 1926-sitting wat bekend geword het as “die Kadalie-sessie”, wat na Clements Kadalie verwys.

Massavergadering van werkers op die Markplein, Johannesburg

However, in spite of continuing growth and positive international media exposure, the movement failed to sustain its momentum beyond the 1920s. Under increasing pressure from the segregationist state, and undone by internecine conflicts and financial mismanagement, the ICU had by 1930 splintered into several shrinking factions, leaving its members embittered by their leaders’ failures to honour their bold promises.

Nevertheless, the movement’s legacy was impressive, as the ICU won significant victories which improved workers’ lives, laying the foundations for the modern black labour movement in Southern Africa. It provided a radical alternative to the prevailing moderate black nationalism, and invoked ideals of racial unity and socialist internationalism, forging a collective political identity that stretched beyond South Africa to what are now Lesotho, Namibia, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Zambia.

Miskien is die mees sprekende getuienis van die ICU se belangrikheid ICU-lid Stimela Jason Jingoes se herinnering van hoe die organisasie die bewussyn van swart Suider-Afrikaanse werkers verander het:

“We Bantu came to call it the Keaubona – I See You. Although its initials stood for a fancy title, to us Bantu it meant basically: when you ill-treat the African people, I See You; if you kick them off the pavements and say they must go together with the cars and the ox-carts, I See You; I See You when you do not protect the Bantu; when an African woman with a child on her back is knocked down by the cars in the street, I See You; I See You when you kick my brother, I See You.”

James Christie Scott, ‘Goal’, Workers Herald, 15 November 1926


J. B. M. Hertzog, Brief aan Clements Kadalie, 21 Julie 1921 [UCT, W. G. Ballinger

Papers, BC 347, A5. X. 1].1

Clements Kadalie,

General Secretary,

Industrial and Commercial Workers’ Union,

Cape Town.

Dear Sir,

I have received yours of 19th inst., for which please receive my sincere thanks. My only regret is that I could not contribute more liberally.

The feelings expressed by you on behalf of your union, I much appreciate, in connection with my endeavours in Parliament; and I sincerely hope that they may contribute to a proper and true realisation of the intimate connection in which those stand who are represented by your union and myself in relation to the common cause of South Africa.

It is for us by our own common endeavours, to make this country, that we both love so much, great and good. In order to do that we must not only ourselves be good and great, but we must also see that there is established between the white and the black Africander that faith in and sympathy with one another which is so essential for the prosperity of a nation.

It is my sincere desire that that faith and sympathy shall exist and to that end I hope to exert all my influence.

With best wishes,

Yours faithfully,

(Sgd) J. B. M. Hertzog

3.1.2 James Thaele, ‘The most comprehensive, the soundest and the sanest attempt to solve the problem’ (1924)James Thaele, Report on his speech, ‘Segregation Scheme: Native Deputed to Explain’, Umteteli wa Bantu, 5 July 1924, 2.

A meeting of Natives was held on the Capetown Parade last Sunday to provide an opportunity for the exposition of General Hertzog’s segregation theory by Professor James Thaele who, it would seem, was recently accorded an interview with the Prime Minister. Prof Thaele very strongly supported General Hertzog’s declared Native policy, and although in some instances his statements were a trifle unmeasured is address as reported by the ‘Cape Times’ was very interesting. It is remarkable, however, that General Hertzog should invest Prof Thaele with authority to say so much regarding his scheme that he has himself refrained from saying, and we should be glad to have the Prime Minister’s confirmation of the proposals so attractively outlined by his Native agent.

Professor Thaele said Smuts himself had said segregation must come. He (the speaker) would describe segregation from the white man’s point of view. Cecil Rhodes’ dictum was ‘Equal rights for all civilised South Africa’. It was impracticable for the white man who ruled as conquerors. The white man had a saying to the effect that ‘to the victors belonged the spoils.’

The white man ruled the Natives as a subject race. The Natives were in the majority and the whites in the minority. The white man saw [that] if he gave equal political rights to the Native they would very soon have a black Prime Minister.

So segregation in the white man’s view had become a necessity: to maintain the white man’s supremacy. It was natural. In ancient Egypt, the black man fought to keep his supremacy over the Jews. Each race fought for self-preservation.

Smuts segregated the Natives and said segregation was the law of the land. Why had Smuts made such a noise about Hertzog’s policy of segregation? Smuts worked by underhand methods to segregate and divide the Natives. Hertzog did not want to divide them. He wanted to give them land where they could develop their own civilisation in their own way. He recognised their tribal traditions and their distinctive nationhood.

He (Professor Thaele) liked Hertzog’s segregation policy, because it left the black man to govern himself. Smuts was afraid of this; he said it would mean that in 50 years the Native civilisation would be a terror to the whites.

In his (the speaker’s) view, Hertzog’s segregation policy was the most comprehensive, the soundest and the sanest attempt to solve the problem. There was philosophy underlying Hertzog’s policy. Hertzog said Africa first and Africa last.

Smuts had been playing up to Great Britain, signing secret treaties.


David Johnson is Professor of Literature at The Open University. He is the author of Shakespeare and South Africa (1996), Imagining the Cape Colony: History, Literature and the South African Nation (2012) and Dreaming of Freedom in South Africa: Literature between Critique and Utopia (2019); the principal author of Jurisprudence: A South African Perspective (2001); and the co-editor of A Historical Companion to Postcolonial Literatures in English (2005), The Book in Africa: Critical Debates (2015), and Stuart Hood: Twentieth-Century Partisan (2021). He is the General Editor of the Edinburgh University Press series Key Texts in Anti-Colonial Thought.

Henry Dee is a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Glasgow. He completed a PhD on the life of Clements Kadalie at the University of Edinburgh in 2020, and has published research on the ICU and the broader Malawian diaspora in the Journal of Southern African Studies, the Journal of South African History, African Studies and the Oxford Research Encyclopaedia for African History.