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Liberalism in South Africa was not formally organized until 1953, although there was some liberal tradition in parties present at the time. This changed in 1953 with the formation of the anti-Apartheid Liberal Party of South Africa, which was multi-racial. A second liberal tradition started in 1959 with the forming of the Progressive Party.
Mahlabatini Declaration of Faith
On 4 January 1974, Harry Schwarz the Transvaal leader of the United Party met with Mangosuthu Buthelezi and signed a five-point plan for racial peace in South Africa, which came to be known as the Mahlabatini Declaration of Faith. Its purpose was to provide a blueprint for the government of South Africa by consent and racial peace in a multi-racial society, stressing opportunity for all, consultation, the federal concept, and a Bill of Rights. It also affirmed that political change must take place though non-violent means, at a time when neither the National Party nor the African National Congress were looking to peaceful solutions or dialogue. The declaration enshrined the principles of peaceful transition of power and equality for all, the first of such agreements by acknowledged black and white political leaders in South Africa and was heralded by many as a breakthrough in race relations in South Africa. Liberal figures and others such as Alan Paton praised the declaration. The declaration drew much media interest both inside and outside South Africa. Schwarz leader of the liberal 'Young Turks' in the UP, would be expelled with other liberals from the party the following year.
Liberal Party of South Africa
- 1953: The Liberal Party of South Africa is formed by Alan Paton
- 1968: The SALP decides to disband rather than obey legislation outlawing multiracial political parties. The decision was also influenced by the fact that the leadership of the SALP had been decimated by banning orders and other restrictive measures, and by the fact that many stalwarts had been forced into exile.
From Progressive Party to Democratic Alliance
Progressives or Democrats
- 1959: Liberal members of the conservative United Party seceded and formed the liberal Progressive Party. The parliamentary party is led by Helen Suzman
- 1975: The party merged with the Reform Party led by Harry Schwarz, a faction of the United Party, and became the Progressive Reform Party
- 1977: After the dissolution of the United Party, former members merged into the PRP, which is renamed the Progressive Federal Party
- 1987: National Party MP Wynand Malan quits the governing party to protest PW Botha's policies. South African Ambassador to the UK Denis Worrall quits his post in order to return to South Africa and fight apartheid. The two form and lead the liberal Independent Party.
- 1988: The PFP merged with the newly founded National Democratic Movement and the Independent Party into the Democratic Party
- 2000: The DP merged with the conservative New National Party into an alliance, the Democratic Alliance.
- 2001: The NNP left the alliance and the DP continues as the present-day Democratic Alliance
- Liberal Party of South Africa: Alan Paton
- United Party: Harry Schwarz
- Progressive Party Jan Steytler, Colin Eglin, Bernard Friedman
- Progressive Party in Parliament Helen Suzman
- Reform Party Harry Schwarz
- Progressive Reform and Progressive Federal Party: Colin Eglin, Frederik van Zyl Slabbert, Harry Schwarz, Zach de Beer
- Independent Party: Denis Worrall, Wynand Malan
- Democratic Party: Denis Worrall, Harry Schwarz Wynand Malan, Zach de Beer, Tony Leon, Sipho Moganedi (first black Democratic Party Youth national president, 1995 to 1998)
- Democratic Alliance: Tony Leon, Helen Zille, Mmusi Maimane
- South African Council of Churches (SACC) - Beyers Naudé
In the Contributions to liberal theory the following South African thinkers are included:
- Helen Suzman Foundation
- Centre for Development and Enterprise
- South African Institute of Race Relations
- Black Sash
- Laurence Gandar  (1915-1998). Editor of the liberal daily the Rand Daily Mail in Johannesburg from 1957 to 1969.
- Barry Streek (1948–2006)