The present Umfolozi Mill had its origins back in 1916 following a concession granted in 1913 to the St Lucia Sugar Company to mill sugar cane at Umfolozi. Two years after the inception of the mill, which had been built on the Umfolozi flats, a devastating flood caused extensive damage to the factory and infrastructure. The company “went under” following the massive costs of reconstruction. As a result it was put up for auction in 1923 and was purchased by a small but enterprising group of farmers under the leadership of George Heaton Nicholls. Thus was born Umfolozi Co-operative Sugar Planters Limited. Following another flood in 1925 it was decided to re-site the mill on higher ground – where it is presently situated.
The years passed and more areas were planted to cane. In the early 1930s it was decided to drain the lower Umfolozi flats thus making more silt rich land available. Following the Second World War a number of returning servicemen settled at Monzi and commenced farming on the lower flats. Periodically the flats were subjected to floods, some relatively mild but others, such as the 1963 flood, resulted in great damage, while the flood caused by Cyclone Demoina in 1984 was catastrophic. Some 1 800 hectares were lost to sand deposits as a result of Demoina. Other difficulties to contend with included droughts, major machinery breakdowns, and the gruelling summer weather. In spite of all the problems experienced following Cyclone Demoina, and further serious floods in 1987, the 1991/92 season resulted in the second biggest crop ever being milled by the Co-operative, giving 144 000 tons of sugar.
The sugar industry gave rise to the town of Mtubatuba in Zululand, and the Co-operative was always the back-bone and life-blood of the community, giving rise to secondary industries and the establishment of a small but busy commercial centre in northern Zululand. Over the years a number of offers to buy the mill or attempts at takeovers were made, but these were rejected until in late 1991 an offer was made by CG Smith Sugar Limited. After extensive negotiations the Board of Umfolozi Co-operative Sugar Planters Limited, under the Chairmanship of Ian Wiseman (the grandson of one of the original pioneers) decided to accept the offer made by CG Smith. On 1st April 1992 the Mill and certain other assets of the Co-operative became part of the CG Smith Sugar Limited Group. The name of CG Smith Sugar Limited was later changed to Illovo Sugar Limited. Then in 2005, a year after the acquisition of Gledhow Mill by the Sokhela Family Trust, Umfolozi Mill and associated properties (housing, etc) were purchased by Umvoti Transport (Pty) Ltd, a company owned by Dr Patrick Sokhela. Gledhow and Umfolozi mills formed the Ushukela Milling Company which was the first BEE sugar company in RSA. However, as a result of various problems, Illovo Sugar Ltd resumed ownership in 2008. Meanwhile the local farming community was keen to buy back the Mill and after protracted negotiations with certain other interested groups a consortium consisting of UCOSP Ltd, UVS, Charl Senekal and NCP Alcohols was formed, and on 1st April 2009 the Mill formerly changed hands again, which is now called the Umfolozi Sugar Mill (Pty) Ltd. There are effectively two shareholders, GrowerCo holding 75% comprising UCOSP Ltd, UVS, Charl Senekal and the other 25% being held by NCP Alcohols.
The Umfolozi Sugar Mill (Pty) Ltd, affectionately called USM, at the start of its first season (2009/10) employed approximately 240 staff with an expected crush of approximately 1,200,000 tons of cane in a 36 week milling season to produce approximately 140 000 tons of sugar.