It was formed in 1977 when a group of United Party members left the Party to form the Committee for a United Opposition, which then joined the Progressive Reform Party to form the Progressive Federal Party.
It drew support mainly from liberal English-speaking whites, as owing to South Africa's apartheid laws, its membership was limited to the country's whites. The PFP was derided by right-wing whites, who claimed its initials stood for 'Packing for Perth', on account of the many white liberal supporters of the 'Progs', who were emigrating to Australia.
This electoral blow led many of the PFP's leaders to question the value of participating in the whites-only parliament, and some of its MPs left to form the New Democratic Movement (NDM).
In 1989, the PFP and NDM merged with another small white reformist party, the Independent Party (IP), to form the Democratic Party (DP).