The History of Umfolozi Sugar Mill

The iconic Umfolozi Mill has been a presence in the heart of Zululand, between the world heritage Isimangaliso Wetlands Park on the Kwazulu Natal North Coast and the Hluhluwe Umfolozi game reserve since it began operations in 1913.

Over the past 100 years, it has undergone changes of ownership, shareholding and operational names, but we are always moving forward to welcome new technologies and industry changes, recognising that embracing innovation and keeping up-to-date with world-class developments, results in continuous improvement in our systems and performance and the success of all our people.

1913 - 1930

The present Umfolozi Mill had its origins back in 1913 when a concession was granted to the St Lucia Sugar Company to mill sugar cane. This cooperative of sugar cane growers built the first mill in 1916. After severe floods, the mill was re-sited to higher ground in 1925, where it is presently situated.

In the early 1930s, the lower Umfolozi flats were drained to make more silt-rich land available for sugar cane agriculture. Over the years, a narrow-gauge rail system developed to facilitate the extraction of cane from the flats in inherent ‘wet’ conditions, and today this rail system is the most cost-effective cane transport system in South Africa. Several attempts were made to take over the Umfolozi mill from the cooperative of sugar cane growers, but these were all rejected until in late 1991 when an offer was made by CG Smith Sugar Limited, which later changed to Illovo Sugar Limited.

1930 - 2000

2000 - 2020

In 2005, a year after the acquisition of Gledhow Mill by the Sokhela Family Trust from Illovo Sugar Limited, the Sokhela Family Trust also purchased the Umfolozi mill and its associated properties and were collectively managed under the banner of the Ushukela Milling Company; the first BEE sugar company in South Africa. Illovo Sugar Limited resumed ownership in 2008 and a year later, on 1 April 2009, a consortium of interested and affected parties purchased the Umfolozi mill under the new name of the Umfolozi Sugar Mill (Pty) Ltd, comprising two shareholders; (1) NCP Alcohols and (2) Umfolozi Mill Growers which in turn comprised of UCOSP, UVS, and Charl Senekal. In 2013 the Small-Scale Growers Trust became a shareholder of Umfolozi Mill Growers.

NCP Alcohols’ interest in the Umfolozi mill was molasses supply for its distillation plant in Durban. So when NCP Alcohols converted its Durban plant to a maize-based operation in 2021, it sold its shares in the Umfolozi mill. Currently, Umfolozi Mill Growers is USM’s only shareholder and therefore is 100% owned by its supplying sugar cane growers.

2020 - present