The South African Sugar Industry is one of the world's leading cost competitive producers of high quality sugar, producing an average of 2.3 million tons of sugar per annum, of which about 76% is marketed within the Southern African Customs Union. It is an industry which combines the agricultural activities of growing sugarcane with the industrial factory production of raw and refined sugar and makes a significant contribution to the national economy. This partnership between growers and millers forms the basis of the industry's structure in South Africa.
Direct and indirect employment in the industry is estimated to be 435 000 people (85 000 direct), with cane being grown predominantly in KwaZulu-Natal, from Northern Pondoland in the Eastern Cape to the Mpumalanga Lowveld. Approximately one million people depend on the sugar industry for a living. In the 2019/20 milling season, 19.24 million tons of cane was crushed.
There are six milling companies who make up the South African Sugar Millers' Association NPC (SASMA) and between them they operate 14 sugar mills and one central refinery. Four mills are owned by Illovo Sugar (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd, four mills are owned by Tongaat Hulett Sugar South Africa Ltd. three mills are owned by RCL Foods Sugar & Milling (Pty) Ltd. and one mill each by UCL Company (Pty) Ltd, Umfolozi Sugar Mill (Pty) Ltd and Gledhow Sugar Company (Pty) Ltd. The forerunner of SASMA, The Natal Sugar Millers' Association, is the founding father of the Sugar Milling Research Institute NPC.
The partnership between the growers (South African Cane Growers Association and South African Farmers Development Association), and the millers (SASMA), is administered by the South African Sugar Association (SASA). SASA provides a range of specialist services that enhance the profitability, global competitiveness and sustainability of the South African Sugar Industry. The Industry Affairs, Cane Testing Service (CTS), National Market, International Marketing and External Affairs divisions of SASA serve in support of the Sugar Act and the Sugar Industry Agreement, and SASA also operates the South African Sugarcane Research Institute (SASRI) and the Shukela Training Centre.