Johannesburg - South African shares turned positive for the first time this week but Gold Fields and other bullion mining firms took a beating from a recovery in the local currency.
Absa, the South African bank majority owned by Barclays, fell 2.8% to R134.60. A black investment group said it had sold a 3.4% stake in the bank.
The Top 40 - (Tradeable) [JSE:J200] index gained 0.21% 32 008.14 and the All Share [JSE:J203] went up by a similar margin to 36 147.62.
"Overall, quite cautious trade and a little bit of strength coming back into the rand," said Nick Kunze, a director at Terrassen Capital Management in Johannesburg.
"Gold shares are under pressure because the rand was strengthening."
The rand has recovered a little over 3% since hitting a near 3-1/2 year low on Monday, when it was by investor concern over widening labour unrest.
Central bank governor Gill Marcus also warned on Wednesday the economic outlook for Africa's biggest economy was deteriorating rapidly, with the ongoing strikes likely to lead to job losses.
Johannesburg's gold index lost nearly 1% with Gold Fields dipping 1.5% to R106.76 and smaller producer DRD Gold falling 2% to R5.71.
A stronger rand is a negative for gold miners because they sell gold for dollars but pay costs in rand.
Mining shares were bolstered by positive signs that the labour fracas, which has spread to other segments of the economy, may soon dissipate with pay deals under discussion, Kunze said.
The market would now turn its attention to US company results as the earnings season begun on Tuesday with Alcoa casting a shadow over the market by forecasting a dip in demand from China, the world's second-largest economy.
"For the next three weeks, we will be driven by offshore markets," Kunze said.
Johannesburg-listed retailers were back in vogue with Mr. Price and Woolworths both adding over 3% to R119.75 and R60.75 respectively.
Trade was robust with more than 180 million shares changing hands. A total of 159 companies lost value and another 125 gained some ground.