The pair crossed the line first at Dusi Bridge in a time of two hours, 33 minutes and 30 seconds (2:33:30) after taking the lead at Pine Needle Portage, around a quarter of a way into the race, and never looking back.
“I’m very happy about our race because things went very well today,” Zondi said.
“To have a five minute plus lead going into day two will be good motivation for us.
“As we know, day two is a long day, a very tactical day. We’ll try our best to put the hammer down from start to finish.”
Hank McGregor and Jasper Mocke, also among the contenders for the 63rd edition of the world famous race, were second in 2:39.03 — just under six minutes behind — after setting the pace at the start.
“Five minutes plus is a big gap, but there’s still two days left,” two-time champion McGregor said.
“I don’t want to wish the worst on them, but anything can happen as we’ve seen in the previous years. It’s a big day tomorrow and cutting out mistakes will be important.
“But at this stage, I’d rather be in their position rather than ours.”
However, it was a horrible opening day for Lance Kime, the winner of last year’s K1 classification, and his partner Thulani Mbanjwa after they took a fall early on at the Commercial Road Weir where they buckled their boat.
They eventually recovered to come in 17th, in 2:59.14, but it placed them close to half-an-hour behind the lead pair after the first of three stages, which began at Camps Drift in Pietermaritzburg.
In third place was Cam Schoeman and Czech rowing star Adam Jakub in 2:47.07, with Kwanda Mhlophe and Zonele Nzuza (2:48.20) fourth followed by Craig Turton and Simon van Gysen (2:49.55) fifth.
The women’s race was a much tighter affair with overwhelming favourites and two-time defending champions Robyn Kime and Abbey Ulansky coming in ahead of Ana Adamova and Abby Adie (3:02.30) with a time of 3:02.01.
The latter pair had lead through the early passages of the race and were around 15 second ahead at Campbells Farm Portage, around one third of a way into the stage, before finally being overtaken by the former at Guinea Fowl Portage, which was just after the halfway stage.
Ulansky and Kime then managed to hold on to seal a in 29 second lead by the end.
“It was a tough day and a really hard paddle out there,” Ulansky, an eight-time former winner said.
“Ana and Abby paddled and ran well throughout, really keeping the pressure on us. It was a constant challenge throughout the day, but fortunately we managed to see it through.”
Haw sisters Tamika and Bianca came third in 3:16.16.
The second stage of the 119.62 kilometres race, which is a K2 or doubles classification in 2014, between Dusi Bridge and Inanda Dam takes place on Friday, with the rowers expected at Blue Lagoon on Saturday.