The last press briefing of the Independent Electoral Commission of South Africa after the 21:00 closing of the voting stations takes place at Century City. Each political party were allowed to say a few words within two minutes. Video: Courtney Africa/African News Agency(ANA)

Pretoria - The African National Congress (ANC) on Thursday took an early lead as counting of national and provincial ballots continued in the early hours.

By 5 am the ANC had garnered more than 50 percent, with the Democratic Alliance (DA) at about 25 percent and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) a lowly 7 percent. 

Early counting placed the militant Black First Land First (BLF) in the distance with less than 700 votes of the million or so ballots counted so far.

As many as 48 parties participated in the elections on Wednesday.

In a statement, the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) said in most areas voting progressed smoothly "despite isolated incidents where voting operations were adversely affected by inclement weather, community unrest, power outages and some logistical challenges".

Inclement weather conditions affected temporary voting stations in the Free State and the Eastern Cape.

"Strong thunderstorms were reported in the early evening in the Free State where 16 temporary voting stations in Mangaung were blown down by strong winds and where heavy rain affected the conditions underfoot," the statement said.

"In Nelson Mandela Bay and Craddock in the Eastern Cape heavy rain and winds also affected operations in more than 30 temporary voting stations."

Power cuts, which have become more commonplace in the country as Eskom grapples with financial and operational woes, plunged several voting stations in KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo and Gauteng into darkness with candles being lit to guide voters.

"The Electoral Commission has been working closely with Eskom and local municipalities to rapidly restore power in affected areas."

Explaining the process after voting stations closed its doors, the IEC said that electoral staff would check the seals and open ballot boxes whereafter the ballots are reconciled with those issued. 

"Once the reconciliation is completed, the marked ballots are sorted into piles according to the party voted for. For ease of counting, the ballots are grouped together in batches of tens and hundreds," the IEC said.

"The ballots for each party are counted and recounted to ensure accuracy and the results captured on two duplicate results slips which reflect the voting station, the number of cast ballots, the number of votes for each party and the number of spoiled ballots."

The process is observed by party agents who then sign the results slips which are posted on the door of the voting station.

"One result slip is then posted on the door of the voting station while the other is taken by the Presiding Officer to the local IEC office where it is scanned and the data entered into the results system using a double capture system to minimise any human error."

"Once audited by independent auditors, the results are released and are simultaneously visible to all those with access to the results system – including Electoral Commission, political parties, observers and the media. Parties can verify the captured results against their copy of the original results slip to ensure accuracy."

The IEC expected the first results from voting districts with smaller numbers of voters to be reflected on the commission's results system before midnight on Wednesday.

Results from other larger voting districts are expected from Thursday onward.

African News Agency (ANA)