Classic DACB Collection

All articles created or submitted in the first twenty years of the project, from 1995 to 2015.

Tile, Nehemiah (A)

Thembu National Church
South Africa

Founder of the first independent African church in South Africa.

He is believed to have been a member of the Thembu branch of the southern Nguni, but his actual origins are uncertain. By the early 1870s he was working as an evangelist for the Wesleyan Methodist mission in the Thembu region of the present eastern Cape Province. He attended a theological college and became a probationer minister (1879), but was denied full connection into the ministry in 1883. At this time the Cape Colony government was informally attempting to impose an administration over the Thembu. Tile worked vigorously with the Thembu paramount chief NGANGELIZWE to prevent this encroachment. He broke with his mission supervisors because of their disapproval of his political activity.

In 1884 Tile founded the Thembu National Church with Ngangelizwe’s support. His church was the forerunner of many independent churches among the coastal Nguni, but was unique in that it was closely indentified with the traditional political authority rather than with westernized nationalists. He attracted many followers and worked towards establishing his church as the official denomination of the Thembu chiefdom, but this effort failed shortly after his death. The church continued to grow as a strong religious body, but became less closely identified with Thembu nationalism and politics.

Mark R. Lipschutz and R. Kent Rasmussen


Saunders, C. C. “Tile and The Thembu Church.” JAH 11 (4) (1970): 553-70.

This article is reproduced, with permission, from Dictionary of African Historical Biography, 2nd edition, copyright © 1986, by Mark R. Lipschutz and R. Kent Rasmussen, University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, California. All rights reserved.

External link

Encyclopaedia Britannica (complete article): Ethiopianism