South Africa were held 1-1 by Ethiopia and Zimbabwe lost 1-0 to Guinea Sunday in home 2014 World Cup qualifiers on a dismal day for countries from the south of the continent.
Salahdin Said gave the impressive Ethiopians the lead before half-time at Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace in north-west mining town Rustenburg, which they held until late in the second half when Katlego Mphela levelled.
Ibrahima Traore fired a first-half free kick into the top corner of the net at the National Stadium in Harare to get the Guinean campaign off to a great start ahead of a home clash with Egypt next weekend.
South African supporters joke that the only way Bafana Bafana (The Boys) can play in a major tournament is by staging it and the 2010 World Cup hosts looked far from a team capable of reaching the next finals in Brazil.
The top Group A seeds only threatened the supremely fit, well-organised visitors from free kicks with midfielder Steven Pienaar and striker Mphela troubling goalkeeper Sesay Basa.
Ethiopia took the lead on 28 minutes as Egypt-based striker Said intercepted a careless midfield pass from Siphiwe Tshabalala, held off the challenge of centre-back Bongani Khumalo and rifled the ball past Itumeleng Khune.
Recalled 34-year-old striker Siyabonga Nomvethe was having no impact up front for South Africa while Said was always dangerous as the second half wore on and the Black Lions became increasingly adventurous in search of a second goal.
But a rare slip by an Ethiopian defender 13 minutes from time let in Mphela to curl the ball past Basa and into the far corner of the net for a fortunate share of the points before facing Botswana in Gaborone next Saturday.
Coach Pitso Mosimane said he remained confident South Africa would top a pool completed by the Central African Republic, who celebrated a first World Cup qualifying victory by overcoming Botswana 2-0 in Bangui Saturday.
Rival coach Sewnet Bishaw lamented the mistake that led to the equaliser and deprived Ethiopia of a first World Cup qualifying victory on the road in 14 attempts.
Germany-based striker Traore struck on 25 minutes in Harare while Zimbabwe had a goal disallowed and striker Knowledge Musona wasted several chances to salvage a point.
With Egypt scoring twice in the second half to down Mozambique 2-0 behind closed door in Alexandria, the stage is set for a top-of-the-table showdown between the National Elephant and the Pharaohs in Conakry next Sunday.