The first public company in Natal was established at Umzinto in 1858 to produce sugar.

Japanese labourers - the first to be brought to Natal from Asia - were recruited to work on the sugar estates.

The town of Umzinto developed as a centre for the mill and as a terminus for a branch of the main line from Durban and a narrow-gauge railway leading inland to Ixopo and Umzimbulu.