A late addition to Eoin Morgan's squad after becoming eligible for England in March, Barbados-born paceman Archer showed why there had been such a clamour for his selection on Thursday, while Ben Stokes also shone and produced an early contender for catch of the tournament.
After the hosts were limited to 311-8 when they looked well set to post a bigger total, Archer swiftly undermined South Africa's reply, taking two wickets in a fine opening spell and forcing Hashim Amla to retire hurt as a vicious bouncer struck the veteran's helmet grille.
Quinton de Kock (68) and Rassie van der Dussen (50) stabilised the Proteas' innings but South Africa then collapsed from 129-2 to 207 all out, with Amla thankfully able to return amid the chaos.
Archer returned to pick up the valuable scalp of Van der Dussen and finished with figures of 3-27 from seven overs, while Stokes - who top-scored for England with 89 - produced a truly extraordinary catch on the boundary as Faf du Plessis' side crumbled.
Stokes leapt high at deep midwicket in the 35th over of the chase and plucked a one-handed take to dismiss Andile Phehlukwayo and leave a sell-out crowd gobsmacked.
England were able to celebrate a comfortable win as man-of-the-match Stokes wrapped up the Proteas innings with a pair of wickets soon after.
England are off to a winning start!
Archer takes three wickets, while Plunkett and Stokes get two each as the hosts beat South Africa by 104 runs! #ENGvSA SCORECARD https://t.co/nH52002J64pic.twitter.com/dT8xVHtmOs
— Cricket World Cup (@cricketworldcup) May 30, 2019
What does it mean? Plan B comes off for England
Much has been made of England's firepower with the bat, which saw them post four successive totals in excess of 340 in the recent ODI series against Pakistan.
However, a more modest score, which owed much to Stokes, proved more than enough on this occasion.
Jason Roy (54), Joe Root (51) and Morgan (57) all failed to kick on after laying a strong platform and South Africa enjoyed significant success in the death overs with an array of slower balls. But Stokes was still able to make a telling contribution before shining in the field.
Tahir given early cause to celebrate
The decision to hand Imran Tahir the new ball paid off almost immediately as the leg-spinner had Jonny Bairstow caught behind for a golden duck with the second ball of the match.
A typically jubilant celebration followed from the veteran, who set off on the sort of joyous sprint that has become his trademark.
Imran Tahir: 1km #CWC19
— Liam Blackburn (@liamblackburn) May 30, 2019
Buttler with room for improvement
On a good day for the hosts, Jos Buttler was not at his best.
England's most dangerous batsman fell for 18 as they lost regular wickets towards the end of their innings and then delivered a sloppy display behind the stumps, although it was not costly.