100 years ago a penniless R.H. Rutherfoord headed into the northern areas of Zululand in search of labour. One wonders if he could ever have imagined that this would be the moment that he planted the seed for four generations of retailers. The Ndumu Group has grown from humble beginnings and has expanded significantly beyond retail and into property, investments and hospitality.
1918 was a tough time. R.H (as he was known) was a sugar cane farmer on the southern bank of the Umfolozi River. A flood washed away his farm and the sugar mill. Once the mill was re-established R.H travelled miles north to spread the news among the locals that work was once again available. He arrived at Ndumu and it was here that his life changed. Mr. L.C. von Wissel wanted to sell his farm and 2 trading stores. R.H returned to Umfolozi and set up Ndumu Cooperative Labour Association with the original shareholders being: S. Johnson (chair), R.H. Rutherfoord (managing director), J.K. Johnson, G. Heaton-Nichols and Dr. L.L. Proksch. Their primary objective was to recruit labour for the mill at Umfolozi and to farm cotton at Ndumu.
The difficulties of transporting goods down the Maputo River to Ndumu from Lourenco Marques (Maputo) challenged their pioneering spirit. Ponts were overturned by hippo and the boll weevil beetle put an end to their farming enterprise. Roy Rutherfoord, R.H.’s son, wrote a book called “Beyond Where the Dirt Road Ends,” in which he records the trials and tribulations of living in these remote areas.
Once the railway line reached Somkele the family made the decision to concentrate on cattle and trading. The pioneering role of the Rutherfoord family opened up Maputaland, having a significant impact on the region’s river and road infrastructure.
They bought out other traders in the greater Maputaland region and moved to Othobothini, near Jozini, where they settled for 27 years. When the railway reached Mkuze the Rutherfoord family settled at Ubombo where they have been ever since.
In the early ‘70s changes were made with the help of W.G Browns & Co. and Spar resulting in the closure of some stores and the expansion of others. It was hard work. Peter Rutherfoord (R.H’s grandson) had huge support from his mother and father, Roy and Maureen, who were legends in their own right, and dedicated their life to developing the business.
In 1982 Peter Rutherfoord bought the business from the original shareholders with a huge amount of borrowed money and support from First National Bank. Boxer was formed in 1987 in partnership with Pat Goss, Peter Clarke and Tom Smith, with a buy-out of Kwa-Zulu Cash & Carry in Empangeni. With only two stores they became Boxer Cash & Carry. Currently Boxer is a massive national organisation owned by Pick ‘n Pay. The original ‘trading stores’ that were started up by Ndumu Limited were then re-absorbed into the Spar Group which recognised their dynamic buying power and distribution potential.
Today Ndumu Investments (Pty) Ltd is the holding company for Supatrade Spar, Build It and Tops. Supatrade is one of the largest groups in the Spar organization with 30 stores throughout Zululand. From modest beginnings 100 years ago, the company has embraced change and faced fierce competition from other retail chains and growth in the informal sector.
The company chairman, Peter Rutherfoord, is a 3rd generation retailer. The 4th generation has taken over the helm with the holding company being overseen by Craig Rutherfoord. Craig and his mother, Susan, are involved with Ghost Mountain Inn at Mkuze. Scott Rutherfoord and his team run the Spar Supermarkets, Tops and service stations. Ross Rutherfoord manages the Build It stores.
However, with 4 generations of passion and experience there is no doubt that Ndumu will continue with the pioneering and fighting spirit in the legacy of R.H. Rutherfoord.