South Africa elections 20190509
Various political party observers sit inside the Independent Electoral Commission Results Centre in Pretoria after South Africa's national and provincial elections on May 8, 2019. Image Credit: AFP

PRETORIA: South Africa's ANC was leading according to early official results on Thursday following the first electoral test of whether President Cyril Ramaphosa has reinvigorated support for the ruling party.

With just over a fifth of districts tallied after Wednesday's vote, the African National Congress was ahead, with its closest rival the Democratic Alliance trailing at a distant 26 per cent, results released by the electoral commission showed.

The Economic Freedom Fighters, founded six years ago by former ANC youth leader Julius Malema, was sitting at eight per cent.

Ramaphosa, 66, took over last year after the African National Congress (ANC) forced then-president Jacob Zuma to resign after nine years dominated by corruption allegations and economic problems.

The party that wins the most seats in parliament selects the country's president, who will be sworn in on May 25.

The ANC's reputation was badly sullied under Zuma.

Support for the ANC has fallen in every election since 2004 with the party taking 54 percent in 2016 municipal elections, compared with 62 percent in 2014's national vote.

Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress (ANC) were swept to power with a landslide in the country's first multi-racial polls that marked the end of apartheid in 1994.

Most opinion surveys suggest the ANC will secure nearly 60 percent of the vote, thanks to Ramaphosa's appeal and a fractured opposition.