Tile, Nehemiah (d. 1891)

South African indigenous evangelist and church founder

Little is known of Tile’s early life before he started working as an evangelist with the Wesleyan Mission in the eastern Cape in the 1870s. After some years, he was sent to Healdtown College for theological training. Beginning in 1879 he served as a probationer in Thembuland, where he clashed with his superintendent, mainly as a result of dissatisfaction with the degree of white control in the mission. As a result, he left the Wesleyan Church in 1883 to start the Thembu National Church, forerunner of the thousands of African Initiated Churches that came into being during the twentieth century. The Thembu king was elected head of this church, a new expression of Africa consciousness in South African Christianity. Tile especially wished to cooperate with the traditional African power structures in order to fortify them against white encroachment. He led this church until his death.

Willem Saayman, “Tile, Nehemiah,” in Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, ed. Gerald H. Anderson (New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 1998), 671-72.

This article is reprinted from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, Macmillan Reference USA, copyright © 1998 Gerald H. Anderson, by permission of Macmillan Reference USA, New York, NY. All rights reserved.



Saayman, Willem. “Tiyo Soga and Nehemiah Tile: Black Pioneers in Mission and church.” Missionalia 17, no. 2 (1989): 95-102.

Saunders, C. C. “Tile and the Thembu Church: Politics and Independency on the Cape Eastern Frontier in the Late Nineteenth Century,” Journal of African History 11, no. 4 (1970): 553-570.


The Dictionary of African Christian Biography has a fuller biography and bibliography.