Colin Wells Eglin

Colin Eglin. Mail & Guardian
Colin Eglin. Mail & Guardian

Politician | Progressive Party founder | Constitution drafter

Born: 14 April 1925 Died: 29 November 2013

“A constitution that protects the fundamental rights of all South Africans will assist in the process of reconciliation and nation-building.”

Who is
Colin Wells Eglin?

Founding member and former leader of the Progressive Party (PP), who participated in the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA) and served in its working group.

and Roles

Politician, founding member and leader of the PP, participated in CODESA.

Best Known For

Serving as the national leader of the opposition party from 1977 to 1979 and 1986 to 1987.

Life highlights

  • Eglin started the Pinelands Young People’s Club and became the Chair of the Pinelands Civic Association in 1951.
  • Eglin became a political campaign manager for Zac de Beer of the United Party (UP) for the parliamentary seat of Maitland. He was elected unopposed as the UP provincial Councillor for Pinelands in 1954 and became the Peninsula Member of Parliament (MP) in 1958.
  • Eglin formed the nucleus of the new Progressive Party (PP) in 1959 and became the chair of the National Executive of the PP in 1966. He was appointed as the party leader of the PP in 1971.
  • Eglin negotiated a merger with members of the Reform Party in 1974, leading to the formation of the Progressive Reform Party (PRP). He stepped down as PRP leader and was elected National Chairman of the party in 1979.
  • Eglin resigned from this position, but was reappointed Chairman of the Progressive Federal Party (PFP) in 1986.
  • Eglin was instrumental in negotiations with the Independent Party (IP) and National Democratic Movement (NDM) to form a new opposition party. This resulted in the formation of the Democratic Party (DP) in 1989.
  • Eglin participated in CODESA and served in its working group.
  • Eglin was made an Officer of the Order of the Disa in 2014, and conferred the Order of the Baobab Silver for serving the country with excellence and for his dedication and courage in standing up for the principles of equality for all South Africans against the unjust laws of the land.


“A constitution that protects the fundamental rights of all South Africans will assist in the process of reconciliation and nation-building.”

– Colin Eglin

“A bill of rights should be written in a language which can be understood and which is meaningful to the ordinary citizens of our country. If they do not understand their rights, they will never enjoy them.”

– Colin Eglin


“He was characterised by equal measures of tenacity and intelligence, and an adaptive pragmatism, which married the pursuit of principle to the realities of an often changing political environment. He was also famously irascible, and on his own description had a reputation for being “Mr Gruff”. He was also fascinated by, and relentlessly travelled the world.”

– Tony Leon, former leader of the Democratic Party and Democratic Alliance

Eglin was the only English-speaking learner in Hobhouse School. He subsequently moved to De Villiers Graaf High School where he matriculated at the age of 14.


Audio Visual

President Mandela gives his State of the Nation address in Parliament. Mandela ends his address with the words, “Let us all get down to work”.

“We must construct that people-centred society of freedom in such a manner that it guarantees the political and the human rights of all our citizens.”– President Mandela, extract from State of the Nation Address, 24 May 1994

President Nelson Mandela announces his cabinet. It includes members of the African National Congress, National Party and Inkatha Freedom Party.

“There was pride in serving in the first democratic government in South Africa, and then the additional pride of serving under the iconic leadership of Nelson Mandela … [He] represented the hopes of not just our country, but of oppressed, marginalised and the poor in the world.”– Jay Naidoo, then Minister of RDP housing
“We place our vision of a new constitutional order for South Africa on the table not as conquerors, prescribing to the conquered. We speak as fellow citizens to heal the wounds of the past with the intent of constructing a new order based on justice for all.”– President Nelson Mandela, 10 May 1994