A file picture shows the South African twenty rand note.
A file picture shows the South African twenty rand note. REUTERS

South Africa's rand crept higher against the dollar on Wednesday, partly aided by a firmer price for gold, but remains one of the worst emerging market performers so far this year, as the central bank continues to accumulate foreign reserves.

The local bourse fell for the third straight session as risk aversion weighed on global markets, pushing the JSE Top-40 index of blue chips 0.37 percent lower to 29,507.02 and the the broader All-share index down 0.34 percent to 32,677.56.

At 1544 GMT the rand traded at 7.19 to the greenback, up just 0.15 percent from Tuesday's close at 7.2010, although it recovered from a session low of 7.2490.

The rand seems to have found some support from gold in what was a generally bleak day for emerging markets, a trader in Johannesburg said.

Market watchers said the rand was largely on the sidelines of global trade on Wednesday -- with currencies like the Turkish lira hogging the limelight -- and should drift around current levels in what looks to be a largely uneventful end to the week.

The rand has taken a little bit of a breather. There's not a lot of data out for the remainder of the week so maybe it's going to trade sideways, said Royal Bank of Canada emerging markets strategist Nigel Rendell.

The rand has recouped some losses after falling to near 6-month lows against the greenback last week, but still lags emerging market peers so far this year after a sterling performance in 2010 which saw it leap nearly 12 percent versus the dollar.

Traders largely cite intervention from the South African Reserve Bank, which repeated expressed concern that the currency was over-valued last year, and has indicated it will buy foreign currency whenever possible to build its stocks.

The SARB's recent activity still constrains any rand rally, said 4CAST emerging market analyst Gabor Ambrus.

On the Johannesburg stock exchange, the world's top platinum producer Anglo Platinum lost 2.59 percent to 713 rand and diversified miner Exxaro was down 0.65 percent to 153.50 rand.

We are just tracking the rest of the global equity markets. It's general negative sentiments across the globe, said Martin Lentsoane, a trader at NEWS Trading.

South Africa's mobile phone operator MTN Group closed 2.18 percent lower to 126 rand and grocer Shoprite lost 1.02 percent to 92.25 rand.

Shares of Quatum Property Group tumbled 23 percent to 1 rand, hit by the latest departure of a senior executive.

Italtile, retailer of ceramic tiles, dropped 2.38 percent to 4.10 rand after the firm said its chief executive officer died in a plane crash.

Government bonds fared better, and yields retreated in tandem. The yield on the 2015 issue fell 4.5 basis points to 7.82 percent while that on the 2026 note was down 3.5 basis points to 8.64 percent.