The History of Willowton Group
The family owned business Willowton Oil and Cake Mills was founded in 1970 by the late DH Moosa together with his brothers Amod and Mohamed and their sons and the sons of their youngest brother Ebrahim who died in an accident in 1967, the company began operations from premises in Ohrtmann Road, Willowton, Pietermaritzburg.
Initially, the oil mill had been built on the Ohrtmann Road property with the refinery and crushing plant being commissioned in 1970. Three years later the solvent plant was commissioned and in early 1974, the seed receiving, rail siding, seed storage silos and cake dispatch building was completed.
Willowton’s first diversification from oil came in 1976 when DH Moosa realized that the company was limited to just 4000 tons of ground nuts and 4000 tons of sunflower seed per annum by the Oilseed Control Board. A decision to expand and diversify the company was taken.
On 10 December 1977 a major fire destroyed the solvent extraction plant bringing production to a complete halt. At the time the company was crushing 150 tons of seed a day. A team headed by Ali Akbar on Civil & Mechanical with AK Moosa on Electrical managed the project to rebuild the damaged plant, increasing the crushing capacity to 500 tons per day. In record time, the new plant was commissioned and fully operational in 7 months and 20 days from the date of the fire. To complement the new plant, conveyors, storage tanks and additional equipment were purchased.
During this period, a candle plant was purchased in Durban, which became a new addition to the group and on transfer in 1978 to
Pietermaritzburg installed an additional line, together with chilling plants and wrapping machines.
In 1978 the second diversification included soap. The main equipment, which included saponification, spray dryers, plodders and stampers were purchased from Europe. To house new equipment, storage tanks, raw materials and boiling pans a new structure was built.
After successfully installing and commissioning the soap plant in 1979, the oilseed crushing capacity was increased and the oil refinery capacity required expansion. In-house boilermakers built the equipment to increase refining capacity from 50 to 90 tons crude oil per day.
In 1981 DH Moosa and his son Akbar travelled to Europe to view new technologies in refining and ordered a 150-ton per day refinery. The equipment purchased for the physical refining of oil was largely automated and the most cost-efficient plant at the time. In fact, it was the first automatic refining process for South Africa. This necessitated the construction of additional building and steel structures in-house.
On 4 July 1982 DH Moosa passed away suddenly and his dream of producing margarine was not fulfilled up to that time and fulfilling that dream was an ambition of the Moosa family.