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Post: 75 Years of NCT – and its parallel universe

NCT

75 Years of NCT – and its parallel universe

NCT, has, in one form or the other, been effectively in existence for 75 years, since the inception, on 3 February 1949, of The Natal Co-Operative Company limited. 75 years is a lifetime and seen in context of world events, this particular lifetime has been simply remarkable on so many levels.

Initially marketing wattle logs to Masonite, membership had grown to 52 by 1950. In a parallel universe, NATO had been founded, the Korean war had started, and the Voortrekker Monument was being unveiled.

As the Berlin Wall was being built, the Cuban missile crisis unfolded, and Nelson Mandela was being sentenced to life imprisonment, Wattle’s marketability rapidly increased with wattle bark quotas being introduced in 1963 and requiring the co-op to export several shipments of wattle timber to Italy.

In the early seventies, just after the first landing on the moon, and the first successful heart transplant, NCT entered into talks with Transvaal Wattle Growers regarding a central Co-operative. The Central Timber Co-operative Limited was established with Sumitomo engaged to export wattle chips and a chipping plant erected in Cato Ridge. Natal Landbou Kooperasie Beperk (NLK) began servicing the needs of northern Natal members.

News of the flames of the Soweto uprising in 1976 and Concorde taking its first supersonic aircraft into the sky, was all the rage whilst the NCT Haulage Division was being established. Laeveld Tabak Kooperasie Beperk become the fourth member of CTC.

During the period of the Koeberg Nuclear Power Station’s construction, the introduction of television to South Africa and the death in detention of Steve Biko, an oversupply of pine and Eucalyptus had led to NCT’s watershed export of Eucalyptus logs to Spain in 1978. By the time South Africa had built its first operational nuclear weapon and the first cases of Aids had appeared in the USA in 1981, NCT was exporting two shipments of either pine or Eucalyptus logs per month into Europe and the Middle East.

CTC had relocated its chipping plant into the burgeoning Richards Bay precinct and NCT had been awarded the accolade of Runner up Exporter of the Year by the SA Foreign Trade Organisation.

As the internet was born in the early eighties and the Bloukrans Bridge opened the highest concrete arch in Africa, NLK announced the closure of its timber division, with their Northern Natal members opting to join NCT. Sappi offered NCT a 10-year hardwood contract and NCT haulage division relocated to New Guelderland (closer to Richards Bay) just shy of the internet being born in 1983.

A serious drought in 1982/83 affected timber yields leading to the implementation of the CTC Afforestation Scheme providing loans and timber supply arrangements. As PW Botha was being elected State President, CTC was acquiring farm properties in Zululand, Northern Natal and the South-Eastern Transvaal.

As a world-wide stock market collapse occurred in 1987 just after the self-same PW Botha had declaring a State of Emergency, Natal suffered the worst floods in decades which restricted timber movement and proved the worth of the NCT depots that had recently been established.

In early 1990, NLK left CTC leaving TWK and NCT the remaining two stakeholders. As then State President FW de Klerk lifted the ban on the African National Congress, NCT established offices in the Eastern Transvaal and Southern Cape. By the time Dolly, the cloned sheep and Google had arrived, NCT achieved FSC certification on a group of member farms in 1999, using the NCT Group Certification scheme the first of its kind in Southern Africa, and ShinCel had come onto the scene driven by independent entrepreneurs.

By 2002, as Mark Shuttleworth became the first South African to travel in space, and the world was still recovering from the shock and horror of 9/11, NCT log exports to Europe continued to peak. By the time Facebook was launched in 2004 NCT Durban Wood Chips had been commissioned thereby adding much needed chipping capacity to southern KZN growers.

As South Africa wins the 2007 Rugby World Cup in France, ShinCel becomes a wholly owned subsidiary of NCT. In 2008, the Dow Jones’s plunge is the precursor to a global recession, President Thabo Mbeki loses the power struggle over the ANC to Jacob Zuma and resigns and NCT Durban Wood Chips becomes a wholly owned subsidiary of NCT.

In 2009, as CTC is split between NCT and TWK with NCT’s portion becoming NCT BayFibre, Jacob Zuma and Barack Obama are both elected Presidents of their respective countries. NCT’s mills are ensconced into a single management division and Mondi SilvaCel was purchased (renamed Richards Bay Wood Chips) in the momentous year of 2013, the year that our esteemed Nelson Mandela passed away.

NCT underwent extensive rebranding in 2016 just as Donald Trump was elected USA President. 2019 saw South Africa reeling with allegations of state capture, the Zondo Commission ongoing, Cyril Ramaphosa replacing Jacob Zuma and NCT relocating Head Office from central Pietermaritzburg to Montrose.

The year after Covid saw NCT adopting a constitutional name change to NCT Forestry Agricultural Co-operative Limited, the very same year that parts of KZN and Gauteng faced civil unrest and riots.

Severe flooding across KZN in 2022 was the precursor to further disaster in 2023, when a devastating fire destroyed the NCT Richards Bay Mill complex, and which certainly cut through the euphoria of South Africa’s rugby world cup win – again!

Over this 75-year period NCT has transformed remarkably from an organisation, initially marketing 20 000 tonnes of wattle to a local market, into a global leader in export and domestic timber marketing encompassing circa two million tonnes of hardwood per annum. NCT draws strength from adversity and has an exceptional ability to successfully transform and adapt to any incoming challenging situation.

A short essay does not do justice to the achievements of NCT, and much detail has, out of space necessity, been omitted. Suffice it to conclude that this has been a lifetime of success for both NCT and the members it has and continues to service.

NCT is an established, contributory, and integral part of the universe that we all know as our “current and ongoing reality”.

Let us all celebrate its immense achievements and wish it well for the next 75 years.

Source: NCT Forest – April 2024 (Page 6 – 7)

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