The main opposition Democratic Alliance was on 21.81 per cent and the leftist Economic Freedom Fighters had garnered 10 per cent.
After casting his vote, the former ANC youth leader who formed the EFF in 2013 said, "If people want to remain unemployed, landless and continue to perpetuate corruption, they must continue to vote for the same party they voted for".
South Africa therefore stands of the cusp of another massive change in the composition of the official opposition with the DA expected to get a run for its money from Mr Malema and the EFF who might emerge as the kingmakers in Parliament.
With three quarters of the vote counted, the ANC shows a strong lead with just over 57% of the national vote, according to partial results released by the country's electoral commission. It won 62% of the vote in 2014.
South Africans have gone to the polls to elect provincial and national leaders.
But for many voters, disillusion with the political system can be traced to the continued inequality that South Africans face, despite the country being one of the richest on the African continent. "You're opening a floodgate, because if you start doing all, If you start doing all of these audits, everybody is going to complain, and when you hear that election results are not going to be announced on Saturday, for me, it's a crisis".
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Some six million people, a lot of them thought to be young, failed to register to vote and although the ANC will win, enthusiasm for the party that Nelson Mandela led to triumph a quarter of a century ago on Friday is arguably more tepid than it has ever been. The EFF is much closer to the ANC (hence majority blacks) in terms of policy and should easily overtake the DA whose origins and membership is largely white and elitist.
Ramaphosa is trying to arrest a slide in support for the ANC, whose image has been tarnished in the last decade by corruption scandals and a weak economy.
The party's share of the vote has not fallen below 60% in national elections since the end of the apartheid regime in 1994.
What pollsters did not see coming was the success of the Afrikaans-speaking VF Plus party, whose English name is Freedom Front Plus.
Dirk Kotzé, a professor at the University of South Africa's political science department, said: "The higher the percentage for the ANC, the more it will give [Ramaphosa] bargaining power". The ruling party lost both cities in the 2016 municipal election, with the Democratic Alliance taking control with support from smaller parties.
DA spokesperson Solly Malatsi said the party was concerned about claims of double voting and an apparent shortage of ballot papers at some voting stations. What is clear is that, the worse the ANC does, the better the Zuma group's chances are of removing Ramaphosa at the national conference in 2022.
"Two separate instances have been brought to the attention of the Electoral Commission over the past few hours, in which it is alleged voters were able to cast more than one vote at different voting stations".