The Mesozoic opening history of the southern ocean between South America, Africa and Antarctica is one of the largest gaps in knowledge on the evolution of this region. Competing geodynamic models were published during the last two decades to explain the geophysical and geological observations. Here we report on aeromagnetic data collected along the East Antarctic coast during five seasons. These data provide new constraints on the timing and geometry of the early Gondwana break-up. In the Riiser-Larsen Sea/Mozambique Basin, the first oceanic crust between Africa and Antarctica formed around 155 Ma. In the west the Weddell Rift propagated from west to east with a velocity of 63 km/Myr between chrons M19N and M17N. At chron M14N South America and Africa finally were split off the Antarctic continent. Stretching in the area of the South Atlantic started at the latest from 155 Myr onwards. The different spreading velocities and directions of South America and Africa created at chron M9N the first oceanic crust in the South Atlantic. A new model indicates that the Karoo and Dronning Maud Land magmatism occurred well before any new ocean floor was created and, therefore, the first formation of new oceanic crust cannot directly be related to a plume interaction.