Wing JP Pietersen helped South Africa to fight off a stirring England comeback to win the second test 36-27 at Ellis Park.
South Africa dominated the first half and had stretched their lead to 28-10 after 47 minutes before England clawed their way back to 31-27 with 15 minutes remaining.
But their run was halted when Pietersen set off from his own half, bumping off defenders, to put the Springboks on the attack.
Forward Pierre Spies helped to send the ball wide for Pietersen to dive over for the match-winning try and give the home team a 2-0 lead in the three-game series.
''England can be really proud of their performance,'' South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer told reporters. ''You can't coach guts and commitment.
''They're a young team and they will make mistakes but they never say die and I knew we would really battle against them.''
The Springbok forwards had pounded England with their direct, powerful running in the first half, earning tries for bruising flanker Willem Alberts, hooker Bismarck du Plessis and scrumhalf Francois Hougaard.
South Africa led 22-3 after the first quarter and England showed their character through two tries by scrumhalf Ben Youngs and one by first-five Toby Flood, who also scored three conversions and two penalties in a faultless goal-kicking display.
But the single moment of magic of Pietersen denied England from pulling off a comeback victory.
After Alberts and Du Plessis scored tries for South Africa within eight minutes, England showed their mettle and stretched the Springbok defence.
A tackle by fullback Pat Lambie in the last line of defence prevented a try but the visitors soon earned a penalty, which Flood kicked.
From the five-metre scrum, South Africa earned a penalty, which Morne Steyn kicked in the 16th minute.
The Springboks earned a third try five minutes later after another spell of top-class driving by the forwards created a gap close to the line which scrumhalf Hougaard spotted.
England, 22-3 down, finally notched a try in the 24th minute after they were awarded a ruck penalty in midfield. Wing Chris Ashton burst through to take the pass and created the space for Flood to run in the try, which he also converted.
Morne Steyn added a well-taken drop goal in the 28th minute, leaving England reeling at halftime 25-10 down.
But South Africa lost some core players in the second half through injury, most notably Alberts, who put his body on the line in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to stop Youngs from scoring his first try.
England were also able to capitalise on some Springbok mistakes.
They earned a couple of penalties and the lineout then got their rolling maul going to allow Youngs to dive over for his second try to close the gap to 22-31 with 16 minutes remaining.
Flood kicked the conversion and almost immediately followed up with a long-range penalty as England began playing with more and more confidence but were eventually thwarted by Pietersen's game-changing run.
''I was delighted with the attitude in the second half ... we were definitely hanging on by our fingernails in the first period,'' said England coach Stuart Lancaster.
''The fact that frustration was the over-riding emotion afterwards is a good thing. There was some pride mixed in there because of the comeback but no sense of 'good job, we almost won'.
''I guarantee this team has another game left in them and they'll be eager to have another crack in the third test in Port Elizabeth,'' added Lancaster.