The Sheffield golfer completed his first round three shots off the lead at Sun City after two under par round of 70 which included an eagle three on the ninth.
But costly bogeys – albeit in difficult conditions – prevented the 23-year-old from closing the gap on overnight leader Bernd Wiesberger.
There was recovery work for Fitzpatrick to do early on after he bogeyed four and six before following a birdie two on seven with another bogey.
Then came his eagle, which sparked back-to-back birdies which saw him move to two under and threaten the top of the leaderboard.
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Two under would be how he would finish after a pair of bogeys and a couple of birdies, the latter of which came on the 17th.
He will start day two at 7.55am, sitting in a tie for tenth place.
Wiesberger fired an opening round of 67 to take a one-shot lead into day two of the tournament.
The Austrian was part of a seven-strong group at the top of the leaderboard heading into the closing stages of day one at Gary Player Country Club, but an approach to four feet on the last saw him break out of the pack and get to five under.
Scotland’s Scott Jamieson was a shot off the lead after signing for a 68 along with France’s Victor Dubuisson, South African Branden Grace and American Julian Suri.
Englishman Graeme Storm - already a winner in South Africa this season - was then in a group at three under that also contained 2011 Masters winner Charl Schwartzel, defending champion Alex Noren and Hideto Tanihara.