Starc struck with the fourth ball of the match and bowled with sustained pace to finish with four wickets .
Returning from a gruesome leg injury suffered in training, Starc struck with the fourth ball of the match and bowled with sustained pace to finish with four wickets as the tourists struggled after winning the toss and electing to bat.
The Australian pace attack, led by Starc (4-71) and Josh Hazlewood (3-70), struck early as the Proteas slumped to 32 for 4.
Middle order batsmen Temba Bavuma (51) and Quinton de Kock, who top-scored with an aggressive 84, rallied with a 71-run stand for the sixth wicket.
But the visitors again stumbled when Bavuma and Vernon Philander fell just before tea as Australia regained control.
De Kock survived two decision reviews and should have been run out on 61, only to be the ninth wicket to fall when he chased quick runs with the tail.
Bavuma made a composed 51 but he fell to a brilliant catch by Shaun Marsh -- whose brother Mitchell had also taken a screamer to dismiss opener Stephen Cook.
The South African number six was superbly caught down low by Shaun Marsh at short leg from the bowling of Nathan Lyon to end a valuable 71-run sixth-wicket stand.
Philander (10) fell to the last ball before tea, dragging an attempted pull shot back onto his stumps to give Starc his third wicket.
Starc, returning to action after suffering deep cuts when he collided with equipment in training, was the pick of the bowlers with 3-42.
The day also started with an outstanding Marsh catch, with Shaun's younger brother Mitchell leaping high at gully to remove Cook for a duck in the first over.
The South Africans were soon in worse trouble, with Hashim Amla also falling without score when he pushed a Josh Hazlewood delivery and to Australian skipper Steve Smith at second slip.
A tough chance from Dean Elgar was grassed on 10, but he made just two more before being caught behind by Peter Nevill from the bowling of Hazlewood (2-47) with the score on just 20.
JP Duminy never looked comfortable and also benefited from a life when he was on 8, but like Elgar he could not capitalise and was caught behind for 11 off Peter Siddle.
Duminy called for a review and it took quite some time before umpire Nigel Llong's decision was upheld by third umpire Richard Kettleborough.
South Africa, who beat Australia 5-0 in their recent one-day series, left out paceman Morne Morkel and handed a Test debut to spinner Keshav Maharaj.