Van der Nest, who was in contention for last week's Stanbic Zambia Open, opened with a round of 3-under par 70 to share the lead with countrymen John Bele and Andre Cruse, Zimbabwean Mike Lamb and Kenya's Peter Njiru.
Defending champion Titch Moore finished in a group of 10 golfers only one shot adrift of the leaders.
The first day of the R200,000 event tested the patience of the 53-strong field. The grainy greens of the par-73 Ndola golf course embarrassed some of the finest putters on the Sunshine Tour. Van der Nest three-putted two of his final three holes, one from as little as three feet.
'At the par-5 16th, I hit it left of the green for two and went on to three-putt from only three-feet. I three-putted 18 as well which is very frustrating. It's really tricky out there, but you've just got to stay positive,' said the Johannesburg professional.
Van der Nest's sublime form began in Lusaka last week, where he led the second round of the Stanbic Zambia Open. But two indifferent rounds on the weekend earned him a seventh-place finish behind winner Mark Barry Foster.
'I was disappointed with my finish in Zambia,' he said. 'I hit the ball really well, and my game is slowly coming back. Hopefully I can follow through on the weekend this time. It wasn't a great round of golf, but at least I'm off to a fairly good start.'
Lamb managed to birdie his final four holes for a share of the lead, while Moore carded 16 pars and two birdies. Moore has Bobby Lincoln and Brett Liddle as two of his companions on 2-under par 71.
Zimbabwe's Nasho Kamungeremu enjoyed another solid start and is only two shots off the pace along with veteran John Mashego and talented Zambian amateur Madeliso Muthiya.