The Major winning duo battled through the worst of the weather in Durban to post rounds of 68, and so end the first day of the elite 33-man event in a tie for second place "“ three shots off the scorching pace set by the runaway leader Thongchai Jaidee of Thailand.
In contrast to Oosthuizen, who opened with a bogey, Els started like a train, notching three successive birdies before his charge was derailed by a card-wrecking double bogey at the par three fourth hole. But the reigning Open Champion remained unflustered, rallying with birdies at the seventh, ninth and tenth holes to make inroads into Jaidee's lead.
A bogey at the tough 11th hole was no disgrace "“ his compatriot Darren Fichardt ran up an eight, and there were two sixes on a day when the Durban Country Club bared its teeth "“ and a closing birdie brought a smile to the face of the 43 year old, who was also amused by the prodigious length off the tee of his playing partner, Nicolas Colsaerts.
He said: "It was my first time, and I loved playing with him. I've played with Bubba [Watson] and [Dustin] Johnson, and these guys just bomb it 40 yards further than any of us. It's quite exciting when they take their driver out. These guys hit it in places you've never seen before."
Despite admitting to feeling rusty after the festive break, Oosthuizen found some form late in his round, as the 2010 Open Champion mixed seven birdies with three bogeys to join his friend and compatriot on four under par.
He said: "I started hitting the ball well the last few holes, but it was tough. I just wanted to find fairways and greens and give myself some opportunities, but that was easier said than done in those conditions."
Jaidee dropped just one shot in a remarkable round which ended with his eighth birdie of the day on the 18th green.
The former paratrooper, who is making his first trip to South Africa, said: "I enjoy the course, because you have to think a lot. I hit the driver on only two holes, and put a three-iron in my bag only 15 minutes before we teed off. It was a good decision!"
Seven players share fourth place in the race for a first prize of Ã¢Â‚Â¬350,000. Scottish trio Paul Lawrie, Richie Ramsay and Scott Jamieson all shot 69, as did Dane Thomas BjÃƒÂ¶rn, Welshman Jamie Donaldson, England's Danny Willett and Indian Jeev Milkha Singh.
First round scores (All players are RSA unless otherwise specified):
65 Thongchai Jaidee THA
68 Louis Oosthuizen; Ernie Els
69 Jamie Donaldson WAL; Richie Ramsay SCO; Thomas Bjorn DEN; Paul Lawrie SCO; Scott Jamieson SCO; Danny Willett ENG; Jeev Milkha Singh IND
70 Shane Lowry IRE; Padraig Harrington IRE; Francesco Molinari ITA; Robert Rock ENG
72 Michael Hoey N-IRE; Rafa Cabrera-Bello ESP; Colin Montgomerie SCO; Henrik Stenson SWE; Julien Quesne FRA; Retief Goosen
73 Nicolas Colsaerts BEL
74 Paul Casey ENG; Marcel Siem GER; JosÃƒÂ© MarÃƒÂa Olazabal ESP
75 ThorbjÃƒÂ¸rn Olesen DEN; Darren Clarke N-IRE; Matteo Manaserro ITA; Branden Grace; Jbe' Kruger, Gonzalo Fdez-Castano ESP
76 Bernd Wiesberger AUS; Ricardo Santos POR
78 Darren Fichardt