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The Workers’ Herald: The Industrial and Commercial Workers’ Union of Africa (ICU) and International Socialism

The Workers’ Herald: The Industrial and Commercial Workers’ Union of Africa (ICU) and International Socialism

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— David Johnson
David Johnson is Professor of Literature in the Department of English at The Open University. (more…)

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25 April 2022

The Industrial and Commercial Workers’ Union of Africa (ICU) and its charismatic leader, Clements Kadalie, dominated the Southern African political landscape of the 1920s. At its peak in 1927, the ICU had 100-1500,000, eclipsing by some distance the African National Congress (ANC) and the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA). The ICU’s message of international socialism communicated via the Workers’ Herald contrasted with the nationalist ideology of the ANC and the nascent ‘socialism in one country’ line of the CPSA. C. L. R. James likened Kadalie to Toussaint L’Ouverture, proclaiming, ‘It will be difficult to overestimate what Kadalie achieved between 1919 and 1926 […] The real parallel to this movement is the mass rising in San Domingo’. Intrinsic to the ICU’s success was its widely read magazine, the Workers’ Herald (April 1923 to November 1929). Edited by James Thaele from 1923 to 1925; by Henry Daniel Tyamzashe from 1925 to 1928; and by William Ballinger from 1928 to 1929, the Workers’ Herald gave expression to the contending tendencies within the ICU – Garveyism, Communism, reformist trade unionism, and liberalism. Each 8-page issue contained four pages of text in English, and four in isiXhosa, isiZulu and Sesotho, as well as cartoons by James Christie Scott, which both attacked capitalism and the segregationist state, and provided hopeful images of workers united in an international socialist community. With circulation figures of 27,000 at its maximum, the Workers’ Herald was by far the most popular newspaper in Southern Africa. Its reach extended to the neighbouring Southern African states, and its articles were extracted, reproduced, and quoted in Britain, the United States, India, and the Soviet Union.

Workers Herald masthead

Extract 1: Clements Kadalie, ‘The Romance of African Labour’, Workers’ Herald, 14 September 1926, pp 1-2.


In a landmark speech on the 13th November 1925, the South African prime minister J. B. M. Hertzog announced a four-point programme of segregation (subsequently known as the ‘Hertzog Bills’): (1) the removal of Africans from the common electoral roll in the Cape Province; (2) the limited allocation of additional land to Africans under the Natives’ Land Act; (3) the establishment of ‘Native Councils’ in African territories made up of a mix of elected and nominated members; and (4) the representation of Africans in Parliament by seven white elected members. In response, the ICU reversed its conciliatory policy towards the Hertzog Government, setting out its own anti-segregationist vision of an equal citizenry. Accompanying the Hertzog Bills were efforts to restrict the movements of radical activists – like the ICU’s leadership. Kadalie’s article in the Workers’ Herald, ‘The Romance of African Labour’, describes how he refused to submit to the new restrictions during his visit to Natal where he addressed large crowds about the injustices threatened by the Hertzog Bills.



A ban on my movements was planned and put into effect on March 1st [1926]. Thus the back-velders and capitalist imperialists succeeded in their demand upon a weak Government, a Government which in reality is controlled by officials instead of responsible Ministers of the Crown. Lengthy and wearisome correspondence between the ICU in the first place (supported by the South African Trade Union Congress) and the Native Affairs Department, resulted in nothing. I was maliciously accused as a racialist. For over five months the Native Affairs Department restricted my free movements as a free citizen of the South African Dominion of the British Commonwealth of Nations. I was prima facie illegally detained to pursue the ‘right to personal freedom’, and it is now an open question whether the Union Government will not be compelled to account for the loss of time and money to the ICU. We finally obtained legal advice and I was advised to cross the Natal border.

My proceeding to Natal, in company with Comrade A. W. G. Champion, Provincial Secretary for that Province, cannot, I am afraid, be rightly recorded just yet. Future historians of Black Trade Unionism will write it, perhaps better than I do now. I am excited with our great victory. After we had received the first opinion of our Transvaal legal advisers, confirming the opinion of our Natal advisers, the National Council Executive Bureau decided quite suddenly to put our recent Conference resolution into effect by testing the legality of the ban. Comrade Champion was called from Durban hurriedly. Everything seemed to be kept in secret at first. Hush! The time of excitement would come. On the 11th August the Government was notified that I was proceeding to Natal to test the legality of the ban. Excitement grew tenser as the evening of the 12th August was approaching. Were we first to go to the Garden of Gethsemane and receive strength and consolation? ‘Lo, I am with you always!’ The fateful evening came, some officials had gone to address meetings at Sophia Township and were unable to witness the departing hour. But the General Secretary, Complaints and Research Secretary, the Financial Secretary, and the Johannesburg Branch Secretary escorted us to the Station. I can quite recall sad faces that evening. Comrade Champion and I had made up our plans. We were prepared to meet the worst. The engine steamed out of Park Station. Comrade H. D. Tyamzashe, our Complaints and Research Secretary, like Peter of old, was anxious to see us brought before Pilate. He joined the train and took us as far as Germiston.

We were anxious that none should detect us until we had reached our destination, Durban, but at Germiston Station I was nevertheless detected by a railway native policeman, whom I knew from East London. It is possible that he was unaware of my adventure and took me for a free man, as he introduced me to many workers present at the station. A large crowd of enthusiastic workers witnessed our departure from Germiston Station, and so at 9.30 p.m. the political prisoner steamed off into Natal.

According to our plans, Comrade Champion and I took to our beds until we found ourselves on the border of Natal in the small hours of the morning. Hush! We were startled by the presence of an Immigration Officer, who examined the passports of our fellow-passengers (Indians). It was all over in a few minutes. The engine proceeded into Natal. Calm as I was in my pyjamas during the small hours of that morning, I was under the impression that at Charlestown, the first station to be reached in Natal, we should be visited by police officers. Perhaps they were asleep. We soon found somewhere about 10 a.m. Still there was nothing doing! We have entered Natal undisturbed. Comrade Champion alights here and informs our Headquarters by telegram that we were penetrating into the enemy’s camp unmolested. But shall we pass Pietermaritzburg in peace? Yes, we do so at 3.15 p.m., perhaps the enemy is still in his bed! We are approaching Durban now, it is towards 6 o’clock. We shall alight at Berea Station and not at Durban Central according to our plans. But the train ran through to the Central Station without stopping at Berea Station. At 6.15 p.m. we steamed into Durban. Shall I escape arrest at the Station? Champion and I are anxious. We pass the ticket gate, we meet an ICU member. He takes charge of our two suit cases. We are in the ICU offices, best known in Durban as the African Workers’ Club. So we are in Durban at last! Perhaps the warrant of arrest was not issued at Maritzburg, Natal headquarters in time! There is life at the African Workers’ Club, music and singing going on. The Hall is packed as if there was a meeting. The Branch Secretary and his assistant, assisted by members of the local executive, are busy receiving subscriptions from members. ‘When will this stop?’ I ask. About 11 p.m., and this happens every day, Sunday included. We are welcomed by Mrs. Champion at her residence. After supper and recollections of our train adventure, we retire to bed.

It is Saturday, the first day spent in Durban. We proceed to our office at 8.30 a.m. We soon got into touch with our Durban legal advisers. It is decided that we advertise in the daily paper that I address meetings as from Sunday, the following day. We anticipate that the advertisements in the papers will hasten my arrest. Our legal advisers instruct us to get ready with bail, for my arrest at any moment was unquestionable. The first day is gone, it is evening, and we are addressing our first crowded meeting at the African Workers’ Club. Enthusiasm is very high.

Then comes the historical Sunday, my second day spent in the enemy’s camp. A motor ride was arranged by one of the leading Indian merchants. Mr. Tyeb, the honorary treasurer of the South African Indian Congress. We are taken into their country club, where we have luncheon. The Chairman of the Club welcomes us in a grand speech. We are promised every support by the Indian community. In response to the toast, Comrade Champion makes one of the finest after-dinner speeches he has ever made since I have known him. In a few words I also respond to the toast. It was now 2.45 p.m. We return to the City, where thousands of workers are anxiously waiting to welcome me to Durban. The advertisements inserted in the daily press, besides over 5,000 handbills issued by our Natal Provincial Secretary, had attracted thousands of people. Are we to go to the open-air meeting first? We decide to participate in a Muslim Literary Society’s meeting, at which Al-Haj Khwaja Kamalndin, B.A., L.L.B., lectured on the ‘Message of Islam’, and to which I was specially invited to attend and speak also. On arrival at the Rawat’s Bioscope, which accommodates over 3,000 people, we find the hall to be too small to accommodate the audience. With greatest difficulty, stewards of the meeting escorted Comrade Champion and I to the platform amidst vociferous cheers. After the lecturer had ably and intelligently spoken on ‘The Messiah of Islam’, I was asked to speak, and I did so for about 10 minutes, and the Muslim Literary Society’s meeting was terminated. By mutual consent we turned the meeting into an ICU meeting. As soon as I began to address the big meeting, we were told that thousands of workers were waiting at Cartwright’s Flats. We decided to go to the open-air meeting. Thousands of workers were marching to the square – I was almost tempted to say, the Red Square. Here at Cartwright’s Flats I was privileged to address a crowd exceeding 7,000. The evening has come! We close the open-air meeting after 6.30 p.m., but at the African Workers’ Club we shall have to address another meeting. It is now midnight, we retire to our beds and the second day is gone and no arrest is made! I am still at large.

The third day in Durban is not so exciting to me. I am now in the trenches. The enthusiasm of my fellow workers is very high and encouraging. Message of sympathy and solidarity pour in from all parts of the country. In an interview with the Press I declare that my mission to Natal was ‘to champion the cause of Democracy’. Comrade Champion becomes more defiant. He invites the enemies of the workers to lay their hands on me. Another open-air meeting in the afternoon and in the evening at the African Workers’ Club, I address the female workers’ meeting. It is the third day, still nothing doing. I continue with my open-air meetings for ten days unmolested. There is an air of mystery surrounding the inaction of the authorities in regard to my entry into Natal without a permit. The enemy is confounded and confused. According to Press reports the Police authorities and the Native Affairs Department are closeted for several hours in a conference at Pietermaritzburg on the eighth day. On the same day I am told by a police officer in Durban that the Government has no legal grounds to arrest me. What is all this? Is democracy going to triumph in South Africa? It looks like it. On the ninth day we decide that I leave Durban on the evening of the tenth day. But I have to arm the workers with a new slogan signifying our victory on the tenth day. The tenth day is with us. Mr. Tyeb takes us round Durban in his beautiful car. We motor 38 miles outside the Borough. In the afternoon I address the biggest rally. The theme of my address is that the African Workers have made history in South African Trade Unionism. It is now 5.30 p.m. I must run for my train. The huge crowd rouses three deafening cheers for the success of the ICU over the enemy. I leave Champion with this monstrous crowd. I am on the train now, without a companion. I sit down and contemplate over my experience. I am convinced that the attitude of the Government conveys to me that the ban which was placed upon my movements has all along been without legal grounds. I compliment myself that I have been instrumental in our infant Trade Union movement having administered a crushing defeat to a reactionary Government, and thereby firmly established the right of Trade Union officials to tour South Africa on legitimate trade union business should they so desire. I won a first round in 1920 against the Chamber of Mines Government and this is the second round that I have won against the despotic and tyrannical Native Affairs Department officials. I hope they have now learnt a lesson, and may fate write this epitaph on their graves:

High in his stirrups stood the King

And gave his battle-axe a swing,

Right on De Boune the whilst he past

Fell that stern blow, the first, the last.

Extract 2: ‘ICU Programme for 1928’, Workers’ Herald, 12 May 1928, p 4.


From May to October 1927, Kadalie toured Britain and Europe, attempting with limited success to raise funds and rally international support for the ICU. He returned from his tour with a new constitution for the ICU based upon those of British trade unions. His attempts to re-energise the ICU foundered, however, as the parlous state of its finances reached crisis point; the first splits from the national body began with the Transkei branch seceding in March 1928; white mobs assaulted ICU members and burnt down ICU offices in Greytown, Weenen and Kranskop; and two months later, the Durban branch – by far the largest ICU branch – broke away to form the ICU yase Natal. The ICU Programme for 1928 reiterates the ICU’s principal commitments therefore at a moment it no longer had the ability to realise them.


Opponents of the ICU have frequently asserted that the Organisation is not a trade union in the sense that the term is generally understood in South Africa, but that it is a kind of pseudo-political body. The ground on which this assertion has been based is the fact that the ICU has concentrated its attention on matters in which the issues involved have not been ‘purely economic’, whilst these ‘purely economic’ issues have been neglected.

The new constitution, which was adopted at the Special Congress at Kimberley in December [1927], definitely establishes the ICU as a trade union, albeit one of the native workers whose rights of organisation are only now earning recognition. In these circumstances it has become necessary for the organisation to have a clearly defined economic programme, corresponding to the interests of the membership at large. At the same time, it must be clearly understood that we have no intention of copying the stupid and futile ‘non-political’ attitude of our white contemporaries. As Karl Marx said, every economic question is, in the last analysis, a political question also, and we must recognise that in neglecting to concern ourselves with current politics, in leaving the political machines to the unchallenged control of our class enemies, we are rendering a disservice to those tens of thousands of our members who are groaning under oppressive laws and are looking to the ICU for a lead.

In the past the offices of the ICU in the field have had no definite programme to follow, and this has resulted not merely in confusion of ideas, but it has led to the dissemination of conflicting politics. This being so, we make no apology for introducing the subject of an Economic and Political Programme for the Organisation at this stage. The ICU is a homogenous national organisation. As such it must have a national policy, consonant with the terms of its constitution, which will serve as a programme of action by which its officers will be guided in their work. The framing of such a programme is essentially the work of Congress, and we propose to give here the broad outlines of for a programme, which we trust will serve as a basis for discussion. In view of what we said above it will be realised that it is not necessary to divide the programme into political and economic sections, the two being closely bound up with each other.

We will further preface the proposals we have to make by remarking that our programme must be largely of an agrarian character, for the reason that the greater proportion of our membership comprises rural workers, landless peasants, whose dissatisfaction with conditions is with good reason greater than that of the workers in urban areas. These conditions are only too well known to you to require any restatement from you. The town workers must not, however, be neglected. More attention must in future be given to their grievances, desires and aspirations if their loyalty to the ICU is to be secured. At the present stage of our development it is inevitable that our activities should be almost entirely of an agitational character, for we are not recognised as citizens in our own country, being almost entirely disenfranchised and debarred from exercising a say in state affairs closely affecting our lives and welfare. Our programme will therefore be almost entirely agitational in character.

We now detail our proposals as follows:–

  1. Wages. A consistent and persistent agitation for improved wages for native workers must be conducted by all branches of the Union. The agitation must be Union-wide, and regard must always be had to local conditions and circumstances. . . . . As an immediate objective a minimum wage of £5 per month (plus food and housing in country districts) should be striven for. . . .
  2. Hours. Insistence should be made on a maximum working day of eight hours and a working week of 5 ½ days for town and country workers alike. This demand will have the support of all right thinking and justice-loving people. . . . .
  3. Illegal Practices. Illegal practices by employers, such as withholding wages, seizing stock, etc., should be reported to the local Magistrate and Native Affairs Department, with fullest particulars. . .
  4. The Franchise. The proposal of the present government to withdraw the very limited franchise granted to Natives in the Cape Province should be unequivocally condemned at every public gathering of the ICU. Further, on the principle, ‘No taxation without representation’, and extension of the franchise to Natives should be demanded. We would suggest that a monster petition be organised by the ICU against the present reactionary proposal and presented to Parliament during the present session. . . .
  5. Pass Laws. The Pass Laws are a legal expression of Native enslavement, corresponding with the dark days of Tsarist Russia. They manufacture criminals and possess no moral or ethical justification. It is therefore the duty of the ICU to oppose them by every possible means at its disposal. . . . In the event of the government refusing to comply with such [an anti-Pass Law] petition, the ICU Congress should fix a day of national protest against the Pass Laws to be marked by mass demonstrations at which all natives should be asked to hand in their passports, the same to be burned in public by the demonstrations. In addition, those assembled should be pledged by solemn resolution to refuse to carry any further passports or to give any further recognition of the Pass Laws.
  6. Land. The total area of land set aside for exclusive native occupation in the Union is notoriously inadequate. Parliament should be petitioned through one or more of its members to increase the Native reserves so as to make provision for the landless native farmers. The assistance of labour organisation overseas should be invoked in this matter. In addition, an agitation should be started against the laws prohibiting native squatting.
  7. Free Speech. Vigorous propaganda must be carried on against those provisions in the Native Administration Act which place restrictions on the right of free speech. Ostensibly these provisions are designed to prevent the stirring up of hostility between the white and black races. Actually they are intended to limit the opportunities for trade union propaganda and organisation among the native workers. These provisions must therefore be strenuously fought against and their legality challenged where wrongful arrests are carried out. In this connection, no opportunity must be lost of stressing the fact that the ICU is not an anti-European organisation, and that where it has occasion to criticise Europeans it is on grounds of their actions (usually as employers of labour) towards the natives and not on account of the colour of their skins.
  8. Propaganda. Members must be kept fully informed of the activities of the organisation and of all happenings affecting their interests. For this purpose regular members’ meetings must be called by Branch Secretaries and the speeches made thereat must not, as heretofore, be of a vague or general agitational character, but must deal with concrete and immediate problems. Every endeavour must be made to stimulate a direct personal interest in the affairs of the organisation, and to this end questions and discussion by the audience must be encouraged. The Workers’ Herald, our official organ, must be further popularised among members. If every member bought the paper its circulation could be easily quadrupled and more. The paper could be made to possess an interest for each district if Branch Secretaries would take the trouble to contribute notes concerning local happenings with their comments thereon.
  9. New Recruits. There are large numbers of native workers to whom the ICU is scarcely known. I refer to the workers on the Witwatersrand gold mines, the Natal coal mines, and the railways. Branch Secretaries in these areas should make every endeavour to rope these men in as members of the ICU as they would be an undoubted source of strength. The good work commenced some years ago among dock workers has unfortunately been discontinued very largely. Renewed efforts must be made during the ensuing year to bring the strayed ones back to the fold.
  10. Representation on Public Bodies. It was decided at a previous Congress that advantage be taken of the laws governing Provincial Council elections in the Cape to run official ICU candidates. Native Parliamentary voters are qualified to enter the Cape Provincial Council, and definite steps should be taken to select candidates to stand on behalf of the ICU in Cape constituencies where there is a possibility of securing a fair vote at least. . . .

In submitting the above outline, we trust that the delegates will see with us the urgent necessity for a national policy for the organisation. Once a policy is adopted, and a programme arranged, it must not be allowed to remain on paper, and every official will be expected to do his utmost to translate this same into practice. Only in this way can the organisation grow and become an effective agency for liberating the African workers from the thraldom of slavery.

Extracts 3: Cartoons published in the Workers’ Herald

Cartoon by J. C. Scott in the Workers' Herald, 14 August 1926.

▴ J. C. Scott, ‘African trade unionism undergoing persecution under the Nationalist Labour government’, Workers’ Herald, 14 August 1926

Cartoon by J. C. Scott in the Workers' Herald, 28 July 1926.

▴ J. C. Scott, ‘When He Awakes’, Workers’ Herald, 28 July 1926 [reprinted in Workers’ Herald, 10 August 1929].

Cartoon by J. C. Scott in the Workers' Herald, 18 March 1927.

▴ J. C. Scott, ‘The African workers receive international recognition through the affiliation of the ICU to the International Federation of Trade Unions. The South African white worker is annoyed at the victory of the blacks’, Workers’ Herald, 18 March 1927

Extract(s) 4: Advertisements in the Workers’ Herald


The funding of the Workers’ Herald derived from two main sources: (1) the membership fees of ICU members, and (2) advertisements. The Workers’ Herald’s financial dependency on advertising is reflected in the (frequently repeated) appeal in the Workers’ Herald of 15 June 1926 ‘The Workers’ Herald is the BEST Advertising Medium for African Trade. Advertisements Translated into All Native Languages’. The two advertisements reproduced here from the Workers’ Herald of 17 March 1926 reflect more than the economic basis of the Workers’ Herald’s survival; they also communicate a sense of the ideological tensions the ICU was obliged to negotiate.


Advertisement in the Workers’ Herald, 27 March 1926, p. 5.

The Book that Every Thinking Man and Woman must Read

Read Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey

Africa for the Africans

The Greatest Living Negro Leader, Statesman and Orator, now imprisoned for his Ideals.

A Book that will set you Thinking Right.

A second Uncle Tom’s Cabin with the appeal of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.

If you are interested in the future of the Races, read this Great Book. The thoughts of one of the World’s Greatest Masterminds.

The book contains in addition to the Philosophy and Opinions the Legal Documents and Briefs in the celebrated Garvey Trial that has aroused the interest of millions of people the World over.

The cry of ‘Africa for Africans’ is raised with a logic, forcefulness and determination that has no parallel in the history of mankind.

And Eye Opener to Lawyers and Laymen.

Every white person of intelligence and importance will read this book. Know what is in the mind of the ‘New Negro’ who seeks the goal of Nationhood. Learn the TRUTH about the man who has been very much before the Public and who is greatly MISUNDERSTOOD.


Leads eleven million active Negroes in America, Europe, West Indies, South and Central America, Asia and Africa in the QUEST of NATIONHOOD. Read about it! It concerns you one way or the other!

Read of the trials and troubles of the Black Star Line!

Read how UNSCRUPULOUS and UNWORTHY white men have tried to steal from Negroes who have tried to help themselves in the great struggle of life for which Marcus Garvey has been IMPRISONED and HOW HONORABLE and HONEST white men have tried to help the RACE – a great contrast in character.

Statesmen of America, England, France, Russia, Germany, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Japan, China, India and Latin America are reading this book and are deeply interested in the Philosophy of the Greatest Black Man of the Twentieth Century.


Who was elected in 1920 by Negro Representatives from all parts of the World as PROVISIONAL PRESIDENT OF AFRICA, like Gandhi of India, Zaghul Pasha of Egypt, has a grip upon the minds of his people that will greatly affect the course of human history! Like John Bunyan in Prison, he sends a message to the World that TIME shall not efface!

Read this Book and be Wise! Read this Book and be informed of the New Trend of Negro thought.

SEND FOR IT NOW! With 25 Full Page Illustrations. DON’T WAIT FOR TOMORROW.

Price for Complete Works 4 dollars 50 Cents

In Two Volumes: Vol. I 1 Dollar 75 Cents Vol. II 3 dollars

MAIL ORDERS MAY BE SENT TO: Mrs Amy Jacques (Wife of Marcus Garvey), 133 West 129th Street. New York City, USA. P. O. Address: Box 22 Station L., New York City, USA.




Advertisement in the Workers’ Herald, 27 March 1926, p 1.

Percine Hair Straightener and Beautifier as sold in America.
Has it ever occurred to you?
In these up-to-date times the vital necessity of a commanding and dignified appearance.
Do you want to improve your position?
Every man and woman has this desire, but perhaps there is a slight suspicion of colour, accentuated by frizzy hair, and you are barred.
Percine removes that suspicion, and opens up avenues in the employments field at wages that were previously unthought of.
Percine straightens the most obstinate frizzy hair, and has become a daily toilet preparation for those with advanced ideas who desire a commanding and distinguished appearance.
Agents wanted.
Percine is obtainable from all agents at 3/6; or, Post Free.
Percine Syndicate PO Box 4627, Johannesburg.

Further Reading on the ICU and the Workers’ Herald

Helen Bradford, A Taste of Freedom: The ICU in Rural South Africa (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1987).

Henry Dee, ‘Central African immigrants, imperial citizenship and the politics of free movement’, Journal of Southern African Studies, 45, 6 (2019), 319-37.

Sheridan Johns, ‘Trade union, political pressure group or mass movement? The Industrial and Commercial Workers’ Union of Africa’ in Robert Rotberg and Ali Mazrui (eds), Protest and Power in Black Africa (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970), 695-794.

David Johnson, Dreaming of Freedom in South Africa: Literature Between Critique and Utopia (Edinburgh and Cape Town: Edinburgh University Press/ UCT Press, 2020).

David Johnson and Henry Dee, ‘I See You!’. The Industrial and Commercial Workers Union of Africa (ICU), 1919-1930 (Cape Town: Historical Papers of Southern Africa, 2022).

Clements Kadalie, My Life and the ICU: The Autobiography of a Black Trade Unionist in South Africa (London: Frank Cass, 1970).

Sylvia Neame, The Congress Movement: The Unfolding of the Congress Alliance 1912-1961, Vols. 1-3 (Cape Town: HSRC Press, 2015).

Les Switzer and Jo-Anne Richards, ‘The Workers’ Herald, organ of the ICU, October 1925-January 1929’, Communicatio, 6, 1 (1980), 22-7.

P. L. Wickins, The Industrial and Commercial Workers’ Union of Africa (Cape Town: Oxford University Press, 1978).


    The Native Administration Act

    The Native Administration Act of 1927 included the clause: ‘Any person who utters any words or does any other act or thing whatever with intent to promote any feeling of hostility between Natives and Europeans, shall be guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to imprisonment’. Known as the ‘hostility clause’, the Native Administration Act was indeed used to prosecute Kadalie and the other ICU leaders (unsuccessfully), most notably during the ICU-led strikes in East London in 1930.


      Clements Kadalie

      Photo of Clements Kadalie

      Clements Kadalie. Source: South African History Online.

      Clements Musa Kadalie (c.1895-1951) was the ICU’s secretary 1919-21; general secretary 1921-25; national secretary 1925-27; and general secretary (again) 1927-29. Born in Chifira in modern-day Malawi, he arrived in Cape Town in 1918, where his brother, Robert Victor Kadalie, had already set down roots. With the help of the white trade unionist, Alfred Batty, Clements Kadalie established the ICU in Cape Town in 1919. He was formally the editor of the ICU paper, the Workers’ Herald, but delegated the work to his co-editors, James Thaele and H. D. Tyamzashe. When the ICU fragmented, he established the Independent ICU in March 1929 in East London. He wrote an autobiography in the late 1940s which was posthumously published as My Life and the ICU (1970).


        The Lord of the Isles

        The lines quoted by Kadalie are from the sixth canto of Walter Scott’s The Lord of the Isles (1815). They describe Robert the Bruce killing the English knight De Boune on the eve of the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 – appropriated here by Kadalie as an allegory anticipating the ICU vanquishing racial-capitalism in South Africa.



          C. L. R. James

          Photo of CLR James, 1946

          C.L.R. James, 1946. Source: Constance Webb, Not without Love: Memoirs (University Press of New England, 2003).

          Cyril Lionel Robert James (1901-1989) was a Trinidadian intellectual, historian, journalist and Trotskyist activist. Between 1933 and 1938, while working as a cricket correspondent for the Manchester Guardian and Glasgow Herald, James was chair of the International African Friends of Abyssinia, and wrote important anti-colonial histories, including World Revolution, 1917-1936: The Rise and Fall of the Communist International (1937), The Black Jacobins. Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution (1938) and A History of Negro Revolt (1938).


            Rawat’s Bioscope

            Rawat’s Bioscope on the intersection of Victoria and Grey Street was the first Indian-owned cinema in Durban. It regularly hosted ICU, ANC and CPSA meetings.


              Al-Haj Khwaja Kamalndin

              Al-Haj Khwaja Kamaluddin (1870-1932) was an Islamic scholar, lawyer, teacher, and community leader from the Punjab, who acquired an international reputation for his advocacy of non-denominational Islam in Britain.


                James Thaele

                Photo of James Thaele

                James Thaele. Source: The Workers’ Herald, 21 July 1923, p. 1.

                James Saul Mokete Thaele (1888-1948) was a prominent leader of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), ICU and ANC in Cape Town. Born in Quithing, Lesotho, he studied at Lovedale before completing two degrees in the United States. The leading South African advocate of Garveyism, Thaele returned to South Africa in 1921, taking on the co-editorship of the Workers’ Herald in 1923. As Garveyism lost traction within the ICU, Thaele broke with Kadalie, leaving the ICU to set up his own short-lived Garveyite paper, African World in May 1925, and to write for the ANC-affiliated paper, African Voice. He was president of the Western Cape ANC from 1924 to 1938.


                  H. D. Tyamzashe

                  Henry Daniel Tyamzashe (1880-1951) was one of the leading journalists of the interwar period and the co-editor of the Workers’ Herald from 1925 to 1928. During the 1920s, he also wrote extensively for Umteteli wa Bantu, South African Outlook and Negro World. From 1925, he was one of the leading moderate figures within the ICU, and after the splits in 1928, he remained loyal to Kadalie’s faction of the ICU. His unpublished ‘Summarised History of the Industrial and Commercial Workers’ Union of Africa’ (1941) is an important early source on the ICU.

                  Photo of Henry Daniel Tyamzashe

                  Henry Daniel Tyamzashe. Source:Economic and Wages Commission: Evidence of the Industrial and Commercial Workers’ Union of Africa (Johannesburg, 1925).


                    Mr Tyeb

                    E. A. Tyeb was a leading Indian merchant in Durban, who took out many adverts in the Workers’ Herald, emphasising that his businesses were enthusiastic supporters of the ICU. During the ICU 1927 annual conference in Durban, Tyeb provided transport, rooms for Kadalie, and hosted a tea party for ICU delegates.


                      South African Trade[s] Union Congress

                      The South African Trades Union Council (SATUC) represented white workers and was for the most part reluctant to support the ICU. SATUC’s president from 1925 to 1930, Bill Andrews (1870-1950) was Communist, often speaking on ICU platforms in campaigns against anti-sedition legislation. However, he consistently viewed white workers as the ‘revolutionary vanguard’, and in 1928, SATUC rejected the ICU’s application for affiliation over fears that black workers would ‘swamp’ white members.


                        Mrs Champion

                        Rhoda Champion (b. Rhoda Dhlamini) married A. W. G. Champion in October 1924, working as a businesswoman and as her husband’s ‘secretary-organiser’ in Durban. Together with Bertha Mkhize, Rhoda Champion ran the Vuka Afrika Company, a tea-room and general store in Durban from 1926 to 1929. The Company was forced to close after the 1929 Durban riots.


                          A. W. G. Champion

                          Allison Wessels George Champion (1893-1975) was the second most prominent ICU figure after Kadalie. While working as a policeman and mine clerk, Champion attended ICU meetings from early 1925. He became ICU Transvaal provincial secretary in June 1925 and then transferred to the position of Natal provincial secretary in November 1925. In Natal, he won several court cases against the state, which helped in recruiting tens of thousands of workers to the ICU. Champion became assistant national secretary of the ICU in April 1927, acting as national secretary while Kadalie was in Europe. In February 1928, he faced numerous allegations of financial misconduct and was suspended. The Durban branch then seceded from the main body, installing Champion as secretary of the ICU yase Natal.


                            William Ballinger

                            William Ballinger (1892-1974) was a Scottish socialist and trade unionist, who worked as adviser to the ICU between 1928 and 1931. On his arrival in South Africa in July 1928, he tried to address the problems with the ICU’s finances, but in the process ostracised many of the ICU’s leaders. He fell out acrimoniously with Kadalie and Tyamzashe, taking over the editorship of the Workers’ Herald in 1928. His tenure was short-lived, however, as the ICU fragmented, and its newspaper folded a year later.



                              Marcus Garvey

                              Photo of Marcus Garvey (1922)

                              Marcus Garvey (1922). Source:


                              Marcus Mosiah Garvey (1887-1940) was the leading Pan-Africanist organiser, orator and philosopher, and the president-general of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) after the First World War. Born in Jamaica, he worked in Kingston, Limon (Costa Rica), Colon (Panama) and London, before moving to Harlem in 1916. By 1920, the UNIA claimed over 6 million members, as well as numerous commercial enterprises, including the Black Star Shipping Line, and a widely circulating newspaper, the Negro World. Garvey faced increasing criticism over his political interventions and financial misconduct. He was convicted for mail fraud in 1923, jailed in New York, and deported to Kingston in 1927. He subsequently relocated to London in 1935, where he lived for the rest of his life.


                                Amy Jacques-Garvey

                                Photo of Amy Jacques Garvey (1923)

                                Amy Jacques-Garvey (1923). Source:

                                Amy Jacques-Garvey (1895-1973), Garvey’s second wife, was a formidable intellectual and organiser, who took over the leadership of the UNIA after Garvey’s imprisonment in 1923, publishing The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey: Or Africa for the Africans, and then accompanying Garvey on his deportation to Jamaica in 1927. After Garvey’s death in 1940, she continued actively supporting African independence struggles.


                                  Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress

                                  A Christian allegory by John Bunyan (1628-88) published in 1678. Written at least in part while Bunyan was in prison for delivering sermons at odds with the prescriptions of the Church of England, The Pilgrim’s Progress recounts Christian’s journey to the Celestial City (Heaven), detailing his encounters along the way with anthropomorphised temptations (‘Timorous’, ‘Envy’, ‘Wanton’, for example), and his travels over treacherous terrain (the ‘Slough of Despond’, ‘Vanity Fair, for example).


                                    Uncle Tom’s Cabin

                                    A two-volume anti-slavery novel written by Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-96) and published in 1852. The novel is credited with changing the attitudes of white Americans towards black slaves, thus serving the abolitionist cause in the build up to the American Civil War.


                                      Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey

                                      Title page from first edition of Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey

                                      Title page from first edition of Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey, edited by Amy Jacques-Garvey. Source: Cowans Auctions.


                                        J. C. Scott

                                        James Christie Scott’s regular cartoons in the Workers’ Herald and his dramatic paintings in ICU venues communicated the ICU’s anti-segregationist messages of international socialism. Born in Durban, in the 1920s Scott was earning a living in Johannesburg as a commercial painter and decorator when he was recruited by Kadalie to produce art works and cartoons to publicise and promote the ICU cause. On Scott, see H. Dee, ‘J. Scott, black artists and the cultural politics of 1920s Johannesburg’, South African History Online, 4 December 2020.