Skipper Graeme Smith survived two close shaves to reach a resolute century and give South Africa a sturdy start Friday after Australia's big first innings in the second Test in Adelaide.
Smith anchored the Proteas' reply with his 26th Test hundred as the world's top-ranked team lost just two wickets in two sessions on a docile pitch.
At close on the second day, Smith was unbeaten on 111 with Jacques Rudolph not out 25 in South Africa's 217 for two, 333 runs behind the home side's 550.
Encouragingly for South Africa, the Proteas have not lost the match in the previous 25 Tests in which Smith has scored a century.
Smith had two big moments in his innings before reaching triple figures.
He advanced down the wicket to spinner Michael Clarke on 46 but was given a let-off when wicketkeeper Matthew Wade badly fumbled the stumping chance.
The Proteas skipper was later given out caught behind off James Pattinson on 78 but the review's Hot Spot infra-red imaging system could not detect any touch and umpire Richard Kettleborough's decision was reversed.
Smith raised his ton off 199 balls when he tucked spinner Nathan Lyon behind point for four with seven overs left in the day.
Alviro Petersen was run out for 54 by a direct throw from Mike Hussey at mid-on after he lost ground in avoiding a mid-pitch collision with Smith to end a 138-run opening stand.
Part-time leg-spinner David Warner snared the big wicket of Hashim
Amla inside the final
hour with wicketkeeper Wade stumping the accomplished number three for 11.
It was Warner's fourth Test wicket and came with the penultimate delivery of his opening over to gain a vital breakthrough on a flat batting pitch.
Australia's hopes of making a first innings total around 600 evaporated when South Africa finally removed skipper Clarke early on the second morning.
Clarke was out for the first time in the series on 230, bowled by Morne Morkel, who finished with five wickets for 146 off 30 overs.
The Australian skipper became the first batsman in the history of Test cricket to post four 200s in a calendar year.
It was a psychological breakthrough for South Africa, with Clarke piling on 489 runs -- including his unbeaten 259 in last week's first Brisbane Test -- before they could get him out.
Clarke hit 40 boundaries and a six off 257 balls in almost six hours but Australian wickets soon began to tumble after his exit to a standing ovation.