Voter apathy appeared to have affected turnout, which fell to 65 per cent from 74 per cent in 2014. The election year before that - 2009 - the party won 66% of the vote.
With the exception of the Western Cape, where the ANC is in opposition to the DA, the party was polling in the mid to upper 60 percent bracket in the remaining six provinces where it is expected to cruise to comfortable victories.
"Even though we've lost some votes, we've held the centre - and I will lead that project going forward", he told reporters at the results centre.
Polls opened at 7am with about 26.8 million voters registered to cast their ballots at 22,925 polling stations countrywide and voting passed off largely without incident, officials said.
The IEC is set to announce final results on Saturday.
"We started deviating from the mandate that our people gave us - corruption got into the way, patronage got into the way", Ramaphosa said after voting in Soweto, southwest of Johannesburg.
The ANC share of the vote has declined from a peak of more than 69% in 2004, when the economy was expanding at around 5% a year and the government was cutting taxes.
"He has to balance his free market proclivities with the fact that there are a large number of South Africans who feel left behind", Campbell said.
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During a meeting with the press, ECSA president Sy Mamabolo said that several people were arrested for having voted twice, a criminal action punishable by 10 years in prison, and that agency will conduct an audit of the results to confirm whether more facts of that kind occurred.
The ANC's reputation was badly sullied under Zuma.
Most opinion surveys before the vote had suggested the ANC would secure almost 60 percent of the vote because of Ramaphosa's appeal and a fractured opposition.
With just over 76 percent of the votes counted the ANC was still leading nationally with 57.22 percent on Friday morning.
The ANC has been confronted by deepening public anger over its failure to tackle poverty and inequality in the post-apartheid era.
If the ANC does secure those votes, then they haven't been held properly accountable for 25 years of criminal mismanagement, and there's also a greater chance that they will take hold of key provinces and metros around the country.
Younger people, in particular, have abandoned the system, with only 19 per cent of the youngest eligible voters (18 and 19 years old) registering to vote this time, a much smaller percentage than in previous elections.
Wednesday's performance put the ANC well ahead of its nearest rivals the main opposition Democratic Alliance party, who won 20 percent of the vote, according to the electoral commission's figures.
Young people queuing to vote spoke of their difficulties in finding jobs, with unemployment at 27%.
Under pressure from the far-left and more radical elements in the ANC, Mr Ramaphosa past year launched a process to change the constitution to make explicit provision for land expropriation without compensation.