The pair shot first-round 63s to sit together on eight under par at the top of the leaderboard, with Kieffer pegging Sterne back after the home favourite had raced off after being among the early starters.
Sterne, a 31-year-old who is making his way back in the game after long struggles with a back injury, came second in Dubai last week and clearly fancies a sixth European Tour title.
He played the West Course on Thursday and has the East to tackle on Friday, but has fond memories of it after winning this very event five years ago.
"I had three good rounds on the East Course that year. If I can do that now, I'll have a chance on Sunday," he told the Tour's official website.
"Some days it feels good and everything kind of happens. Golf is a strange game and you have to hit the right shots at the right time. I hit 17 greens today and was never in trouble."
Sterne signed for six birdies and an eagle on an unblemished day, while Kieffer also went round without dropping a shot. Eight birdies did the trick for him.
Norway's Espen Kofstad would have joined them in an overnight share of the lead were it not for a horror final hole. He was tied with the pacesetters until a three-over-par seven on the West Course's last threw him back down the leaderboard.
South Africa's Bryce Easton is third, a hole-in-one helping him to an East Course record 65, while eight players are hugged together on six under. American Peter Uihlein and Sweden's Joakim Lagergren are the two non-South Africans in the group, while England's Ross McGowan is on five under, along with 12 other players.
Charl Schwartzel is sitting on four under, the 2011 Masters champion resting just off the pace after five birdies and a bogey on the East Course.
It was a bad day for England's Richard McEvoy, though, who went round in eight over, one worse than compatriot Nick Dougherty and three worse than Scotland's Alastair Forsyth.