ANC takes strong lead in closely-watched South Africa poll

South Africans vote in general election; sixth poll since 1994

The ANC won 62% of the vote in 2014's parliamentary election, down from 2009 and far short of its best result, 69% in 2004 under Thabo Mbeki.

An updated count on South Africa's election results on Friday morning showed the ruling party, the ANC headed toward victory, although well below its count from five years ago.

Polls closed in South Africa on Wednesday after nationwide elections nearly certain to keep the ruling ANC in power despite anger over corruption scandals, sluggish growth, and record unemployment.

Wednesday's provincial elections will also measure ANC fortunes, with the party in a close fight with the DA for control of Gauteng (one of the provinces in South Africa), which includes the capital Pretoria and the economic hub Johannesburg.

All the pre-May 8 polls predicted it (although the final figures varied), and as things now stand, the party has secured around 55% of the national vote with 31% of the stations counted. The president of the country is the leader of the party that gets the most votes. However, so far the biggest surprise in these elections is the performance of the VF Plus which has gained more voters in the provinces.

Corruption allegations from Opposition parties appeared to have hurt the governing party.

Some 26 million South Africans were registered to vote across 22,925 polling stations on Wednesday.

The ANC's main challengers among 48 parties contesting the national vote are Mmusi Maimane's center-right DA and the populist Economic Freedom Fighters, led by former ANC youth wing leader Julius Malema.

"He has to balance his free market proclivities with the fact that there are a large number of South Africans who feel left behind", Campbell said.

Esau Zwane, 90, waiting to vote in Soweto, Johannesburg, lived under white-minority rule.

Zuma faction. Ramaphosa's credibility with some ANC power brokers depends, therefore, on showing that he can stem the ANC's decline at the polls.

"We have given them 25 years but the poor are getting poorer and the rich richer", said voter Anmareth Preece, 28, a teacher.

Dirk Kotzé, a professor at the University of South Africa's political science department, said: "The higher the percentage for the ANC, the more it will give [Ramaphosa] bargaining power".

"The ANC have taken a hit in the polls - with an estimated near 5 percent loss on 2014 results - due to their failure to address key challenges affecting the South African population", said Indigo Ellis, Verisk Maplecroft's Africa analyst.

"As part of the process of finalising the results of the elections, the commission will assess data from scanners, VEC 4 forms (used when voters vote outside their voting districts) and the voters' roll to identify potential risks", it says.

In the most likely scenario, the ANC will need to form a coalition government with another party to get the votes needed to alter the constitution.

A big issue has been the implementation of a 2017 ANC pledge to redistribute prime agricultural land, now disproportionately owned by white people, who constitute less than 10% of the population.

Mbalula said Ramaphosa is safe as leader of the party but that he can't speak for "dark forces".

Based on those results, political analyst Melanie Verwoerd predicted the ANC was set for a vote share of 56% to 57%.

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