The Johannesburg professional carded his second successive 68 to lead the tournament by two strokes at 10-under-par 136 after the second round at the Lusaka Golf Club. Van der Nest's only victory on the Sunshine Tour came in the 1995 Sun City Classic before he was hospitalized with a tumour in his left leg, forcing a two-year absence from the game.
'It's been quite a dry patch since my last victory, but I'm back playing fulltime again and I'm playing some really solid golf,' Van der Nest said.
Only one shot off the lead overnight, Van der Nest produced a round of five birdies and an eagle, with two bogeys at the first and 15th holes.
'I'm hitting the ball really well. That's the secret to this course. You have to set yourself up with a good drive. I've also managed to hole a couple of putts which makes all the difference because the other guys seem to be struggling on these greens,' he said.
Van der Nest is fighting for his exemption on the Sunshine Tour this year.
'That's my priority at this stage. I need to get off to a good start so I can be exempt. I had a really frustrating summer tour because I had to pre-qualify for all the events. I managed to get into four of them, but made the cut in only one (the Zimbabwe Open),' he said.
Wallie Coetsee kept himself in contention with a 69 to move to 8-under 138 despite missing five four-foot putts during his round. 'I still can't seem to find my A game,' Coetsee said. 'I'm hitting the ball well, but my putter is letting me down.'
Swede Mattias Nilsson, who shared the first round lead with Ulrich van den Berg, also finished on 138 following his round of 71, while Van den Berg fell four shots off the pace after a level-par 73 on Friday.
The halfway cut was made at 1-over-par 147, with 61 professionals making it through to the weekend.