The Liberal Party was founded in 1953 on the tenet that “non-racialism is the only sure foundation for a multi-racial society of such complexity” as South Africa. It sought the non-racial extension of “full political, social, and individual rights to all adult South Africans.” The Liberals rejected the qualified franchise, color bars, and authoritarian government (Paton 2011).
Initially, the Liberals sought to participate in white electoral politics, but due to the party’s failure to make any inroads, it adopted electoral boycott as a legitimate means of pursuing political change (O’Malley 1988, 32). Only its white “native representatives” in Parliament, who were either appointed by the government or elected by blacks, could act as the party’s bridge into government. But the party lost these seats when black South Africans were deprived of their white representatives in 1959, and it was robbed of the majority of its grassroots members—blacks—when mixed racial membership of parties was outlawed in 1968 (Hughes 1994, 38–40). The Liberal Party voted to disband itself after mixed racial membership in political parties was outlawed, as it did not wish to comply with legislation that offended its core principles (South African History Online 2012a).
Cardo says of the Liberal and the Progressive parties that the Liberal Party was largely progressive, in that it pushed for state-provided welfare, and the Progressive Party on the other hand was largely liberal, in that it focused on civil rights (Cardo 2012, 19–20). Hughes, on the other hand, describes the early Liberal Party as focusing public attention on “the core classical liberal values,” including “strict adherence to the rule of law and Parliamentary democracy as the primary institutional guarantees of the liberty of the individual.” He goes so far as to write that in the face of South Africa’s realities, the party “never transcended its preoccupation with classical liberal principle.” By 1963, however, the party appointed a commission to reconsider the party’s identity as the organization shifted focus to “social and distributive justice” (Hughes 1994, 35, 37).