Clements Kadalie was born in April 1896 in Nkhata Bay District at Chifira village near the Bandawe Mission Station in Nyasaland, presently Malawi. He was the second born son of Mr and Mrs. Musa Kadalie Muwamba. In 1913, graduated from Livingstonia with an honours and at age sixteen he was a qualified teacher, and he was already assigned by Dr. Laws to run district schools.
In 1918 after a journey which him through most of Southern Africa countries arrived and settled at Cape Town. He befriended Arthur F. Batty an emerging trade unionist and political activist. With Batty's advise Kadalie in 1919 founded the Industrial and Commercial Union (ICU), later renamed the Industrial and Commercial Workers' Union of Africa. In December of the same year, Kadalie gained prominence with the success of the dockworker's strike, which prevented the export of all goods through Cape Town Harbour facilities. This was in accordance with basic employment rights of the workers, who had to work long hours without the remunerations they deserved. Despite the strike being called off at a latter stage due to the lack of support within other well established labour organisation, in a way it helped to launched Kadalie's career as a trade unionist. In 1923, Kadalie was replaced by James La Guma as the administrator of the union and he was released to do the most propagandistic part, that of the secretary general.
On 20 November 1924, Kadalie was arrested and issued with a deportation order, naming him a prohibited immigrant and ordering him to leave the Union of South Africa within three days. In May 1927, Kadalie represented the ICU at the international Labour Conference in Geneva of which the trip was sponsored by advocate Crech-Jones. In 1928, internal fighting within the union saw Kadalie being sacked by William G. Ballinger with the full backing of the executive committee of the ICU. He later formed an independent ICU in East London on top of that Kadalie was a provincial organiser of the African National Congress (ANC). He never returned to Malawi and stayed in East London with his wife Emma and five children until he died in 1951.