IEC results centre (File)
While the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal continues to lead the province, albeit with an approximate 11% loss in support, the battle for official opposition is heating up.
The ANC has been leading the province since counting began, and has just over 1.3 million votes after 77% of the votes captured.
However, at 53.42% at noon on Friday, its share of the vote is significantly down from the 64.52% it received in 2014.
The DA and the IFP have been neck and neck for second place, with the latter commanding a lead of just over 70 000 votes since Thursday afternoon.
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By Friday morning, the race between the political rivals was closer than ever.
The IFP had more than 400 000 votes at 423 029 (17.42%) while the DA was close behind on 353 104 (15.54%). The DA took the second spot in 2014 with just over 500 000 total votes.
The EFF has made great strides in improving its haul, particularly in southern KZN. The red berets currently stand at more than 2230 000 votes, or 9.16% - a substantial 7.3% increase from 2014, which puts the party in fourth place.
'Trust us' slogan
IFP chief whip Narend Singh told News24 that the party was upbeat about the results.
"We understand there are many more voting districts where results are yet to come out. It's never over till the fat lady sings and results are declared. However, we are cautiously optimistic that we will pass the DA in KZN and assume position number two as official opposition."
He said that the key to the IFP's success was its "trust us" slogan.
"Honesty and integrity were our hallmarks during campaigning. We did that because we know our leader, Prince [Mangosuthu] Buthelezi, has those characteristics and the voting population resonated with that. He has not had his finger in the till. He has been a leader who calls a spade a spade and not a shovel."
Read: 'I'd rather be a small party than a party that uses poor people's money' - IFP's Buthelezi
Singh said that once the IFP was back in the legislature and Parliament, its priority would be to hold the ANC to account.
"If the ANC wants to continue remaining relevant, they have to listen to opposition parties."
DA has 100 000 votes in waiting
DA leader Zwakele Mncwango said that voter turnout was a concern, but was happy with DA figures, despite lagging behind the IFP since the beginning of the counting process.
"These are positive figures for the DA. We have been catching up to the IFP. They have a domination in northern KZN, which is reaching a ceiling at the moment. Our stronger area, like the South Coast, is still being captured."
Mncwango claimed the DA was bigger than the IFP in the eThekwini Metro, where votes were still being tallied.
"We expect at least 100 000 votes for the DA. By the end of the afternoon, the DA will be sitting ahead of the IFP."
He said the DA's message of building one nation was helping the party.
'Not at the mark'
Meanwhile, the ANC in KZN was confident despite lower numbers than 2014.
"We are definitely not at the mark we were at 2014, but voter turnout is much lower this year. We are way past a required majority. We are going toward a number we are happy about," provincial spokesperson Nomagugu Simelane-Zulu said.
Also read: ANC KZN still 'confident' despite 9% drop in early results
She said there were some 400 voting stations that were yet to be captured that would boost ANC numbers.
"We are still waiting for those to come in."
She added that the ANC would be introspective and try to understand the issues behind lower voter turnout this year.
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