Final results are not expected before Saturday to allow time to address any objections
South Africa’s governing African National Congress (ANC) has taken an early lead in the general election, partial results show.
With about half the results in, the ANC had 62% of the vote followed by the Democratic Alliance at 24%.
The ANC is widely expected to return to power although analysts say anything less than 60% of the vote for the party will be seen as a major upset.
The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party was in third place with 5%.
The electoral commission said voting passed off peacefully in most areas, with turnout at just over 72%.
The elections are the first since the death in December of Nelson Mandela – the country’s first black president – and mark 20 years since the end of white-minority rule.
Dissatisfaction with the government has been growing over high levels of unemployment, a lack of basic services and allegations of widespread corruption.
The two opposition parties are doing well so far, says the BBC’s Pumza Fihlani.
The newly formed EFF, led by the left-wing firebrand Julius Malema, has surprised many by securing 14 parliamentary seats, she says.
The DA has increased its share of the vote from 17% in the last election to 24%, partial results show.
Early on Thursday, DA leader Helen Zille told AFP news agency that she expected her party’s final vote to be around the 23% margin.
“We’ll see how it goes. Of course, we hope it will be more. We did as much as we could,” she is quoted as saying.
The DA has been trying to make inroads into the black electorate – its support is mainly concentrated in the Western Cape which has a large white and mixed-race population.
Those born after the end of apartheid in 1994 were able to cast their ballots for the first time, although only a third of those entitled to do so had registered to vote.
An ANC victory would return President Jacob Zuma for a second five-year term. He was dogged by allegations of corruption in the build-up to the election after an independent inquiry found he had “unduly benefited” from an expensive government-funded upgrade to his private residence.
Speaking as he cast his vote on Wednesday, Mr Zuma said he thought “the results will be very good”, but added that the campaign had been “very challenging”.
In the last election in 2009, the ANC saw a slight drop in support, polling 66% of the vote.