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The Progressive Party was a liberal South African party that opposed the ruling National Party's policies of apartheid. For years its only member of parliament was Helen Suzman. It was later renamed the Progressive Reform Party in 1975, and then Progressive Federal Party in 1977.



The Progressive Party was formed by members who had left the United Party following the United Party Union Congress held in Bloemfontein starting on 11 August 1959. The delegates at the Party Congress passed policy resolutions about the political rights the party wished to give to Natives. The Progressives found these resolutions unacceptable.

A Progressive Group of MPs led by Dr Bernard Friedman, began to organize a new party. The first meeting of the Group took place at the home of Helen Suzman, MP for the Transvaal seat of Houghton. This meeting took place on 23rd-24 August 1959.

The Progressive Party began its founding Congress on 13 November 1959, in Johannesburg.

Jan Steytler, a former Cape leader of the United Party, was elected the first leader of the new Party.

At the session of Parliament in 1960, the Progressive Party had twelve MPs. Eleven had been first elected for the United Party and one (a Native Representative Member) defected from the South African Liberal Party. By the end of that Parliament in 1961, the group had been reduced to ten as a result of the abolition of the Native Representative seats at the end of 1960 and the resignation of one MP in January 1961.

At the General Election, held on 18 October 1961, Helen Suzman was the only Progressive Party candidate to be elected. It would be thirteen years before she again had party colleagues in Parliament. In that time Mrs Suzman was re-elected in 1966 and 1970.

Jan Steytler continued as party leader until December 1970, but being outside Parliament he was far less visible than the member for Houghton.

Harry Lawrence, a former Minister and the most senior of the MPs who had left the United Party in 1959, became temporary leader. In February 1971 Colin Eglin from Cape Town was elected party leader.

At the next General Election, on 24 April 1974, the Progressive Party made a major advance. In addition to Mrs Suzman, re-elected for Houghton, five other members won seats including Colin Eglin. A seventh member of the caucus was elected at a by-election soon after.

Merger with Reform Party

A group of reformists broke away from the left wing of the United Party in February 1975. Four MPs led by Harry Schwarz, formed the Reform Party. The Reform Party merged with the Progressive Party to form the Progressive Reform Party, following Congresses held in Johannesburg on 25th and 26 July 1975.

Subsequently the PRP merged with another breakaway group from the United Party, which was in sharp decline in the mid 1970s, to become the Progressive Federal Party in 1977.


  • Source of the information used to assist in the writing of this article is A Cricket in the Thorn Tree: Helen Suzman and the Progressive Party by Joanna Strangwayes-Booth (Hutchinson of London, 1976)

See also



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