Ngcayiya, Henry Reed
Ngcayiya was a founder of the Ethiopian Church of South Africa. This is not to be confused with the Ethiopian Church founded by Mangena Mokone in 1892, although Ngcayiya considered that he had returned to the original Ethiopian position.
He was born in 1860 near Fort Beaufort in the Eastern Cape. He attended Healdtown, the Methodist college, where he obtained a teacher’s certificate. After teaching for some years he became an interpreter at the Aliwal North Magistrate’s Office. While he was working in Aliwal North, Mokone visited the Eastern Cape in 1893 looking for men to join the ministry of the Ethiopian Church. By this time Goduka and the remnants of the Tembu Church had already joined Mokone. Ngcayiya volunteered and was accepted as an Ethiopian.
As part of the Ethiopian ministry, Ngcayiya was ordained into the ministry of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1898. He became a loyal member of the AMEC and served on a number of committees, for example in 1901 he was listed among the elders and served on the committee to consider the ‘state of the church’, as well as the finance and missions committees (Minutes 1901). He was also among those delegated to record the history of the Ethiopian movement in South Africa.
In 1899, after Dwane’s defection to the Anglicans, Isaiah Goda Sishuba held a meeting at the Friendly Hall in Cape Town. Sishuba wanted to ensure the unity of the ministry of the AMEC. Ngcayiya was not at the meeting, but later he and Sishuba joined forces to establish a new Ethiopian Church.
When in 1900 Bishop Coppin became the first bishop of the South African AMEC Ngcayiya was not among those, such as Mokone and Tantsi, who were granted leadership positions. Even though he had travelled extensively for the AMEC in the Eastern Cape, bringing in many new members, he was not among those listed by Tantsi in 1904 as having ‘figured prominently in the struggle’ to become established. However, Ngcayiya was made the presiding elder for Natal.
In 1908 a constitution for a new independent church was drawn up and signed by Sishuba, Ngcayiya, Spawn, Sonjica and Phakane. They said that they had seen the ‘deplorable spiritual and mental condition of the people’ and membership of the new church would be based on ‘an intelligent profession of faith in Christ’ (Constitution). However, it was only at the 1912 Conference that Ngcayiya, Sishuba and 17 ministers took leave of the AMEC and the new Ethiopian Church of the United South Africa came into existence. Ngcayiya said in 1925 that one of their main reasons for leaving the AMEC was that it was controlled from America.
Ngcayiya was a member of the Executive of the African National Congress and acted as chaplain. He was a member of the 1919 deputation of the ANC to the British government in England. When Sishuba died, Ngcayiya became the head of the Ethiopian Church, a post he held for sixteen years until his death in 1928. Skota described Ngcayiya as ‘a good preacher, energetic, very shrewd in his judgment, the soul of generosity who made many sacrifices, a very cheerful disposition’ who was loved by all his colleagues (Skota 1933, 78).
J. A. Millard
Constitution of the Ethiopian Church of the United South Africa. State Archives, Pietermaritzburg.
Minutes of the Conference of the AMEC 1901.
MS 14 787. Ngcayiya’s Evidence Before the 1925 South African Native Affairs Commission. Cory Library, Grahamstown.
Skota, T. D. M., ed. The African Yearly Register: Being an Illustrated, National, Biographical Dictionary, (Who’s Who) of Black Folks in Africa. Johannesburg: R. Esson, 1933.
Tantsi, J. Y. The History of the AMEC Church in South Africa.
This article is reproduced, with permission, from Malihambe - Let the Word Spread, copyright © 1999, by J. A. Millard, Unisa Press, Pretoria, South Africa. All rights reserved.