THE ruling African National Congress (ANC) has taken a clear lead in South Africa's fifth post-apartheid election, giving President Jacob Zuma the political clout to push through pro-business reforms in the face of union and leftist opposition.

Burdened with sluggish economic growth and damaging strikes in his first term, the scandal-plagued Mr Zuma has devoted less and less time over the last year to the wishes of unions, whose long walkouts have hit confidence in Africa's most developed economy.

The early results also batted away opposition from the far left, squashing some expectations the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) - led by his former protege Julius Malema - would ride a wave of populist anger over poverty and high unemployment.

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"With this (election outcome), he is much less beholden to the left," Cape Town-based political analyst Nic Borain said. He expects Mr Zuma to appoint a technocrat cabinet with the express mandate to roll out policies to boost growth.

Mr Borain added: "The bottom line is that by 2019 they are going to have to be growing this economy and making sure they can still raise tax revenue."

Mr Zuma hinted this week the ANC needed to take a more pro-business tack, accusing the main platinum union of irresponsibility for dragging out a four-month wage strike, and he hinted at reforms in the pipeline.

The ANC had 62.5% of the vote with just over half of districts having been counted, according to the the Independent Electoral Commission.