South Africa's rand strengthened early on Thursday against a softer dollar, shrugging off a disappointing local survey that showed private sector activity in the country contracted in March.

At 0817 GMT, the rand traded at 18.6050 against the dollar , 0.35% stronger than its previous close.

The S&P Global South Africa Purchasing Managers' Index showed private sector activity fell to 48.4 in March from 50.8 in February as stronger price pressures and drought conditions affected customer demand. A reading above 50 shows growth.

The dollar index was last down 0.1% against a basket of currencies.

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell on Wednesday made balanced and familiar remarks on the direction of future interest rates. Gold prices rallied on his remarks, while emerging market currencies including the rand gained.

On the stock market, the Top-40 and the broader all-share indices were both up 0.6% in early trade.

South Africa's benchmark 2030 government bond was stronger, with the yield down 3.5 basis points to 10.5%. (Reporting by Bhargav Acharya; Editing by Toby Chopra)