c. 1850s to 1891
Thembu National Church
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
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.
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