Ismail Vadi was born in 1960 in Kliptown where the historic Congress of the Congress was held in 1955. He matriculated at the Trinity Secondary School in Lenasia in 1976, and went on to study for a Master Arts degree in History at Witwatersrand.
He taught as a senior History and English teacher in Lenasia from 1982 to 1991. Thereafter, he served as a lecture for three years in the Education Department, University of the Witwatersrand. Ismail Vadi has had a varied political career. He was an activist in the Transvaal Indian Congress (TIC) and the United Democratic Front (UDF) in the 1980s. He was a founder member of both the Lenasia Youth League and the Progressive Teachers' League. He served as a national vice-president of the South African Democratic Teachers' Union (SADTU) from 1990 to 1994.
He is currently a Member of Parliament (National Assembly) for the African National Congress (ANC).
Currently, he is the Minister of Transport for Gauteng.