Vernon Philander's unbeaten fifty revived South Africa, after Stuart Broad sparked a collapse that saw the Proteas lose four wickets in the last session of a see-saw first day of the second Test at Trent Bridge on Friday.
South Africa were 309 for six at stumps after returning captain Faf du Plessis won the toss.
Philander was 54 not out and recalled all-rounder Chris Morris, one of three changes to the side that lost the first of a four-Test campaign by 211 runs at Lord's last week, 23 not out.
Their unbroken seventh-wicket partnership was worth 74 runs with Philander, primarily a pace bowler, making his second fifty of the series.
South Africa had been 179 for two at tea, but they soon slumped to 235 for six.
The previously well set Quinton de Kock (68) and Hashim Amla (78) both fell to Broad as the fast bowler, who led England's attack with three wickets for 47 runs in 19 overs, struck on his Nottinghamshire home ground.
To the very first ball after tea, left-hander de Kock -- whose tally of 11 Test fifties but just three hundreds is an indication of a sometimes frustrating talent -- chased a wide Broad delivery and edged to former England captain Alastair Cook at first slip.
Amla eventually paid the price for repeatedly mis-hooking when such a shot off Broad found Mark Wood at long leg.
It was a careless way for an experienced batsman -- this innings saw Amla become just the fourth South African to score 8,000 Test runs -- to get out.
Broad had now taken two wickets for three runs in 22 balls -- some way short of his stunning eight for 15 in Australia's 60 all out when England clinched the Ashes in their last Test at Trent Bridge two years ago, but important all the same.
All-rounder Ben Stokes then took two for four in 11 balls.
Du Plessis (19) was well-caught left-handed down the legside by diving wicket-keeper Jonny Bairstow off a thin glove.
The skipper reviewed but replays upheld the fine decision of on-field umpire Paul Reiffel, the former Australia seamer.
But there was no doubt when Temba Bavuma (20) was caught behind off Stokes trying to leave the ball.
Du Plessis, by his own admission, faced a "tricky decision" after winning the toss upon his return after not playing at Lord's following the birth of his first child.
Yet despite the grey skies overhead and Trent Bridge's reputation for aiding swing bowling, he opted to bat first in the hope his top order could overcome a difficult first hour.
It looked a sound plan when South Africa reached lunch on 56 for one after a rain-interrupted session for the loss only of Dean Elgar, the stand-in skipper at Lord's.
Amla, who made South Africa's Test record score of 311 not out against England at The Oval five years ago, was in good touch and went to a 93-ball fifty by driving left-arm spinner Liam Dawson for six.
Philander, again demonstrating his batting ability, pulled Broad for a resounding four that raised a fifty stand with Morris.
The new ball did not stem the flow of runs, with Philander cover-driving Broad for four in what were now sunny conditions good for batting.
England were unchanged from the XI that marked Joe Root's first match as captain with a thumping win where the new skipper made 190 in the first innings.
All South Africa's batsmen wore black armbands in memory of the late mother of Proteas coach Russell Domingo after she died recently following injuries sustained in a car crash.