The African National Congress is now leading with 55% of the 27% votes counted.
PRETORIA, May 9 (Reuters) - Results from almost two-thirds of voting districts in South Africa's election put the African National Congress on course to retain power but heading for its worst performance in a national poll in its 25 years in government.
Support for the ANC has fallen in every election since 2004 with the party winning just 54 percent in 2016 local elections, compared with 62 percent in the last national vote in 2014. Of the 47 opposition parties in the race, only the main opposition centrist DA and the radical-left Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) are major players.
Prior to Wednesday's vote, some political commentators predicted that the ANC might lose its outright majority in provinces such as Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, and therefore be forced to form coalitions with opposition parties.
Find everything you need to know about the 2019 National and Provincial Government Elections at our News24 Elections site, including the latest news and detailed, interactive maps for how South Africa has voted over the past 3 elections.
An election official empties a ballot box as counting begins after polls closed in Alexandra township in Johannesburg, South Africa, May 8,2019.
The vote is the sixth since the end of apartheid in 1994 and the adoption of democracy.
"Across provinces, the ANC is growing". Zuma allies secured a number of top party posts, and there is speculation they may seek to topple the president at the ANC's next national conference in 2022.
But the ANC faces widespread apathy among voters born after apartheid, known as the "born-free" generation, with millions who failed even to register to vote.
"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.
If the ANC's share of the vote slips below 60%, Ramaphosa could be vulnerable and his party could oust him and choose a new leader.
"This election also seems to have been quite tough on the smaller parties", says Jenny Holloway, senior researcher at the CSIR.
Preliminary results will be announced from the electoral commission in the capital, Pretoria, and final results are not expected for 48 hours.
The party that wins most seats in parliament selects the president, who will be sworn in on 25 May.
"We have made mistakes but we have been sorry about those mistakes and we are saying our people should reinvest their confidence in us", he said.
The ANC had hoped to reverse or at least arrest a slide in support after its efforts to address racial disparities in land ownership, housing and services since the end of apartheid faltered. The EFF is much closer to the ANC (hence majority blacks) in terms of policy and should easily overtake the DA whose origins and membership is largely white and elitist.
However, the DA says it does not believe land reform needs to be "carried out in a way that takes from one to give to another", and instead promises to prioritise land reform in the budget and to release unused government land.