The hosts finished day four at 4-487, with a lead of 37 runs, and will likely set the Saffas a total and give themselves a chance of bowling them out on the final day tonight (London time).
Clarke was sublime, ending the day in Brisbane on 218 not out.
Opener Ed Cowan on the other hand was plucky and resilient as he ground out his maiden Test century.
Veteran Michael Hussey also made a timely half-century and was 86 not out at stumps.
Hussey and Clarke’s partnership came at over five runs an over, helping the Aussies surpass the South African’s total and make a game of the Test after the second day was lost to torrential rain.
Cowan and Clarke’s partnership of 259 before patient Cowan was dismissed (for 136) was a fourth-wicket record at the Gabba.
Cowan was unlucky to be out after Clarke smashed a drive of Dale Steyn who clipped the ball with his finger and onto the non-striker’s stumps.
Despite South Africa having the two best fast bowlers in the world at their disposal – and eight having a trundle throughout the day – that was the only wicket they managed in the day.
When Australia declare, they will only have to take nine wickets, with South African batsman JP Duminy already ruled out of the match after a freak accident while training.
“It is an absolutely beautiful batting wicket now but tomorrow afternoon if the sun stays out hopefully the wicket plays some tricks and we have a lead that puts pressure on,” Cowan said.
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