Cape Town - The ANC was heading for its fifth landslide election victory, but with a loss of about three percent of its majority and a handful of seats in Parliament, according to results released late on Thursday.
With reporting from districts more than three-quarters complete, the ruling party was standing at 62.8 percent, with the Democratic Alliance second with 22.2 percent, and Julius Malema's Economic Freedom Fighters third with 5.4 percent.
The figures confirmed pre-poll forecasts that voters would inflict relatively limited punishment on the ANC for the Nkandla scandal, sluggish service delivery and enduring economic hardship for most South Africans.
“I think the ANC will get above 60 percent and... I think they will also get above 50 percent in Gauteng,” DA leader Helen Zille conceded in a television interview at the national results centre in Pretoria.
Her stated hope had been to deny the ANC an outright majority in Gauteng, after a bold campaign headed by Mmusi Maimane.
The ANC had a healthy lead in Gauteng with 53.89 percent of votes compared to the DA's 32.30 percent, though the result was expected to shift somewhat as counting in the province had proven slower than in the rest of the country.
The DA was heading for a resounding victory in the Western Cape, with its majority stretching to just under 60 percent in the province it has controlled since winning 51 percent of votes in 2009.
Ninety percent of votes in the province had been counted by late Thursday, and the final tally was expected before day's end.
Political analyst Richard Calland said the national results showed that with its most competitive all-race election to date, South Africa had become “a two-party show”, with the fledgling EFF providing excitement, but no proof that it would turn into a lasting political force.
“Whether they are going to sustain themselves, we simply don't know,” he told eNCA television.
Malema's militant outfit had its best showing in Limpopo Ä his home province Ä and North West, home to the strike-ridden platinum sector where miners turned out in numbers to vote on Wednesday.
Counting was complete in Northern Cape and Mpumalanga, and the ANC won with 64.4 percent and 78.2 percent respectively.
In the Eastern Cape, the ANC looked headed for a runaway victory with over 70 percent compared to 15 for the DA - which had hoped to make inroads in the province.
The Electoral Commission of SA (IEC) said at this stage the percentage of spoilt ballot papers stood at 1.37 percent. In the 2009 elections, the figure was 1.34 percent.
It would suggest that the Vote No campaign launched last month by former ANC Cabinet minister Ronnie Kasrils, urging voters to spoil their ballots or support smaller parties, did not gain much traction.
Kasrils said on Thursday he had voted neither for the ANC nor the DA.
IEC chief electoral officer Mosotho Moepya stressed however that the size of the spoilt vote might yet shift as counting continued.
“We can only determine that once the last voting district has been captured,” he told reporters at the results centre.
Moepya said ballots cast by expatriates at embassies abroad were “in different stages of arrival”.
Though restive townships like Bekkersdal outside of Johannesburg were calm on voting day, the election was marred by the shooting of an ANC member outside a polling station in KwaDukuza, KwaZulu-Natal.
ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu said the party suspected it was motivated by political rivalry.
“This comrade was killed while sitting at the ANC desk outside a voting station,” he said.
Another person was shot in KwaMashu in KwaZulu-Natal.