Pretoria - Both the ANC and DA were cautiously optimistic as the vote count early on Thursday morning showed significant support for their respective parties.

By 9.30am the ANC had taken the lead nationally, and in eight provinces, while the DA was clearly leading the Western Cape and had notched up significant support in Gauteng and the Northern Cape.

“We’ll have to see. I never get hopeful at the beginning. Otherwise it’s too hard a let-down. Let’s just see what happens,” DA leader Helen Zille told Independent Newspapers.

ANC national spokesman Jackson Mthembu was also guarded at this early stage. “So far so good, but it’s early… Before we bring out the champagne, we have to have at least 80 percent of the vote counted,” he said.

But for AgangSA leader Mamphela Ramphele it could not have been anything but disappointing to see the few thousands of votes the results monitor at the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) national results centre in Pretoria.

By 9.30am the party had clocked up 11 664 votes nationally, but with dismal performances in provinces with returns of below 1000 votes across the board.

“I am open,” she told Independent Newspapers, but added “I am disappointed with the voters’ mentality.”

Given the choice between a party standing for integrity, rather than one under a shadow of corruption and lack of service delivery, Ramphele said, it was “disappointing” that voters still cast their ballots for the other party.

As results came in overnight, it became clear that the fortunes of smaller parties like the Pan-Africanist Congress and Azanian People’s Organisation (Azapo) were set to lose their one seat each in the National Assembly.

Cope, which emerged as the third biggest party in 2009 on the back of 1.3 million votes, also appeared on a hiding to nowhere. By 9.30am it had 46 935 votes.

That’s just over the around 40 000 votes needed for one seat in the National Assembly.

While regular election contestants, the Freedom Front Plus and the United Democratic Movement (UDM) had received 62 270 and 58 170 votes respectively on the national ballot, or less than half of the votes attained in 2009.

However, traditionally returns from key township areas, and rural areas, come in later in the day. This may just change the picture yet.

By mid-morning on Thursday key voting stations even in suburban Johannesburg had not submitted returns. This included key DA areas, although where results were available, one DA insider said, the party’s support had increased by 20 percent on average.

This may prove key in the race for Gauteng, a province the DA determinedly maintained would fall from the ANC.

Around a third of the voting stations had submitted their returns to the IEC by 9.30am.

The count showed the ANC on the national ballot at 3 528 213, the DA 1 432 552 and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) gained 254 736 votes on the national ballot, effectively giving then around six parliamentary seats.

In the Western Cape the election race appeared to turn into a one-horse race – the DA stood at 812 028 provincial votes against 412 025 for the ANC and the third best supported, the EFF at 24 261.

In KwaZulu-Natal, the ANC led with 623 232 votes at 9.30am. The IFP’s 128 224 votes gave it an over 12 percent of polling support as at 9.30am, but in all other provinces the party scored less than one percent.

The National Freedom Party (NFP) received 84 173 votes, but also notched up on the national ballot tally 87 913 votes in the first national and provincial elections it is contesting.

In Gauteng, the ANC was in the lead with over 56 percent support through 241 096 votes, but the DA stood at 137 805 votes, or just under 30 percent, and the EFF at 36 331 votes, or some eight percent, by 9.30am in South Africa’s economic heartland.

As the votes are added up throughout the day, it was expected the ANC’s leading position would be confirmed nationally, and in at least eight provinces, and the DA would emerged as the strongest opposition party.

The first result in was that of Mount Ayliff in the Eastern Cape, where the final vote count came in just before midnight, in what IEC spokeswoman Kate Bapela described as “a historic record”.

On Wednesday night many polling stations were inundated with would be voters, who had left it late in the day. As the 9pm deadline loomed on Wednesday, both the ANC and DA urged their voters to go out.

Said the ANC: “We urge people to be patient and not stray from the voting stations. We want to take this opportunity to thank those who have cast their vote in an act of active patriotism. We want to assure everybody that nobody will be turned away for wearing the ANC T-shirt”.

The DA sent a series of SMSes to their potential voters, urging them to cast their ballot against corruption and, as polling stations were closing, to reassure would be voters they could still vote if they were in the queue by 9pm.

The IEC on Wednesday night said that very high volumes of voters were reported in all metropolitan areas – from Tshwane, Johannesburg, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town.

Earlier in the day, the IEC noted that 85 percent of the just over 22 000 voting stations had opened on time at 7am, and 95 percent by 9am.

Among the reasons for late opening were, in KwaZulu-Natal, the failure of a boat needed to transport IEC staff to their station to arrive on time, while in the Northern Cape an IEC manager was injured in a car accident, while a party agent died in another car accident.

In what the ANC described as an election-related killing on Thursday morning, one of its members was killed in KwaDukuza.

IEC challenges on the day included power failures, particularly in Limpopo, and voting stations running out of ballots. The longest delay was two-hours, before the ballot papers were re-stocked; election officials on Wednesday said unexpected high numbers of voters turned up at some stations after “shopping for the shortest queue”.

IEC chairwoman Pansy Tlakula on Wednesday night said “the most significant challenges faced were mainly as a result of the high turnout at voting stations and voters voting where they were not registered”.

But voting had proceeded “without serious incident in almost all areas”, she added.

Political Bureau