Skipper Faf du Plessis put his ball tampering controversy behind him to defy Australia's bowlers with a steely century to put South Africa in early control of the day-night third Test in Adelaide.
Du Plessis was booed by the crowd as he walked out to bat, following a ball-tampering incident for which he was found guilty and fined, but cleared to play in the match.
But he single-handedly lifted the Proteas before declaring at 259 for nine leaving him unbeaten on 118 after the tourists had been struggling at 95 for four against Steve Smith's revamped team.
The Australians, with David Warner unable to open the innings as he was off the field having treatment and hadn't been back long enough at the time of the declaration, negotiated 12 overs to be 14 without loss at the close of day one.
English-born debutant opener Matt Renshaw played watchfully for eight with Usman Khawaja on three.
It was yet another crucial knock by du Plessis at the Adelaide ground where four years ago his defiant 376-ball unbeaten knock of 110 denied Australia victory to earn the Proteas a backs-to-the-wall draw.
Du Plessis scampered through for two off Josh Hazlewood to bring up his sixth Test century off 147 balls prompting a smattering of boos amid the applause of the 32,255 crowd.
It was a tribute to his focus and concentration as du Plessis played a chanceless innings, making it look easy despite the problems experienced by his team-mates.
Hazlewood was the best of the Australian bowlers with four wickets for 68.
Only opener Steve Cook provided any material support to his captain with 40 after profitting from an early reprieve.
Cook had a major let-off on four, when he was struck on the back pad by Mitchell Starc and given out leg before wicket in the day's third over.
But he was called back to the crease when replays found that Starc had over-stepped.
Cook eventually fell in the fifth over of the middle session when he sparred at Starc and nicked to Smith at second slip.
Dashing wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock, who has scores of 84, 64 and 104 in the series, had a failure by comparison, managing just 24 off 33 balls.
Vernon Philander lost a third umpire review when 'Snicko' detected the faintest of edges off Hazlewood to Matthew Wade for four nearing the dinner break, while Kyle Abbott chipped in with a spirited 17.
Wade, recalled to the national side for dumped gloveman Peter Nevill, had five dismissals, four catches and a stumping.
Temba Bavuma failed to get a start when he edged Jackson Bird for eight and Starc recovered from his early Cook blunder to entice a thick edge from Dean Elgar to Khawaja at third slip for five.
He received ironic cheers from the home crowd when replays confirmed it was a legal delivery.
Renshaw then took his first Test catch to dismiss Hashim Amla for five off Hazlewood.
Hazlewood struck again in the over after drinks, coaxing an inside edge off JP Duminy to give Wade a catch for five.
Australia are fighting off the threat of their sixth straight Test defeat, after losing 3-0 in Sri Lanka in July and August. They are also on the brink of their first-ever home Test series whitewash.