Centurion - Jacques Kallis made a patient, polished century and sapped the energy from England's bowlers on the first day of the first Test at SuperSport Park here on Wednesday.
South Africa, who had been in trouble earlier after being sent in, were 262 for four at the close with Kallis unbeaten on 112.
It was a position that the South Africans could hardly dared to have hoped for after a poor start to the day.
The host nation were rocked by the withdrawal shortly before play of strike bowler Dale Steyn because of a tight left hamstring. He was replaced by new cap Friedel de Wet.
Then captain and batting mainstay Graeme Smith was out for nought. South Africa slipped to 93 for three and 159 for four before Kallis and JP Duminy (38 not out) put on an unbeaten 103 for the fifth wicket.
England's bowlers, who had the ascendancy early on, lost their edge as the pitch, initially responsive, flattened out.
As the tide slowly turned against them, England were without Graham Onions, one of only four specialist bowlers, for much of the afternoon because of a calf strain, while they used up both their television umpire reviews with unsuccessful attempts to overturn not-out decisions against Kallis and AB de Villiers.
Off-spinner Graeme Swann was England's most successful bowler, taking two for 61 in an unbroken spell of 24 overs.
Kallis, playing as a specialist batsman because a rib injury will prevent him from bowling, looked in control from the start of his innings, although with his score on 35 he had to survive a television review when umpire Aleem Dar gave him not out after James Anderson appealed for a leg before wicket decision.
Television umpire Amish Saheba decided not to overturn Dar's decision after replays showed the ball might have struck the pad off an inside edge and could have been too high for the 'zone of certainty' which is the benchmark for reviews of an on-field official's decision.
Kallis went to his 32nd Test century off 177 balls with virtually his only false shot, a hook against Stuart Stuart Broad which landed dangerously close to fine leg fielder Onions and went for four. He hit 13 fours and a six off Swann.
Smith was caught behind off Broad without scoring in the second over when his attempted glance was held by wicketkeeper Matt Prior, who lunged to his right.
Ashwell Prince and Hashim Amla put on 50 for the second wicket but it was slow going against tight bowling before Amla was caught at second slip off Graham Onions.
Prince, who successfully sought a referral after umpire Steve Davis gave him out lbw to Onions when he had 19, made 45 before he was caught slip off Swann's second ball of the match.
Prince and Kallis put on 42 before Kallis and AB de Villiers (32) added 66 for the third wicket.
South Africa first innings
G Smith c Prior b Broad 0 (7m, 7b)
A Prince c Collingwood b Swann 45 (155m, 94b, 6x4)
H Amla c Collingwood b Onions 19 (89m, 67b, 2x4)
J Kallis not out 112 (278m, 203b, 14x4, 1x6)
A de Villiers c Cook b Swann 32 (81m, 66b, 5x4)
J Duminy not out 38 (138m, 103b, 4x4, 1x6)
Extras (1b, 10lb, 5w) 16
Total (for 4 wkts) 262 - 90 overs
Fall of wickets: 1-1 (Smith 1.3), 2-51 (Amla 20.5), 3-93 (34.2), 4-159 (De Villiers 54.3)
Bowling: Anderson 23-6-68-0 (1w), Broad 20-6-42-1 (2w), Onions 14-2-53-1 (2w), Swann 24-5-61-2, Collingwood 7-1-18-0, Trott 2-0-9-0