Bernard Parker scored two fantastic goals – but unfortunately the second was past Itumeleng Khune, handing Ethiopia the win.
Parker opened the scoring on 34 minutes with a textbook volley, off a long ball from Khune.
Ethiopia equalised just eight minutes later, when Getaneh Kebede hit home after some indecisive play by the Bafana defence.
The match was sealed in the 70th minute when Parker scored with possibly the best header of his career, off an Ethiopia free-kick.
Ethiopia had the first chance of the match in the fourth minute, when Saladin Said got his head to a free-kick. Khune fumbled the ball under pressure, but managed to hold onto it at the second attempt and deny the hosts the lead.
Three minutes later Bafana had an early chance of their own, when Parker made a run into the area and found May Mahlangu with a clever ball, but Mahlangu sent his shot over the crossbar.
Ethiopia continued to run at Bafana, and Saladin had a rocket of a shot saved by Khune.
But Bafana came close again, after some great build-up play from Mahlangu, Thuso Phala and Dean Furman, and Parker took a shot from close range, but it was tipped away by Jemal Tassew, with nobody available to take advantage of the rebound.
The visitors then managed to calm the pace of the game to a level they were more comfortable with, and Siphiwe Tshabalala had a shot from range go wide, before Parker’s header was cleared off the line by Minyahil Teshome.
Bafana then deservedly took the lead just after the half-hour mark, when Parker showed his pace and class, out-pacing the Ethiopian defence and hitting home with one touch.
The South Africans should have made it 2-0 five minutes later, when they nearly pulled off what was clearly a training-ground drill. The ball was sent through to ‘Shabba’ in the middle of the park, who passed it to Reneilwe Letsholonyane making a late run into the box. ‘Yeye’ got a shot away but it was straight into Jemal’s hands.
Ethiopia equalised two minutes before half-time, after some extremely poor decision-making by the Bafana defence.
Addis Hintsa danced on the ball at the edge of the area with at least four Bafana players looking on, seemingly unable to commit to the challenge. Hintsa then sent the ball square to Kebede, who made no mistake and thumped it home to make it 1-1 ahead of the break.
Bafana started the second half brightly, but were unable to get through the Ethiopian defence.
Igesund made a change up front, bringing on Tokelo Rantie for Thuso Phala, and the striker nearly scored with his first touch but after dribbling the Ethiopia defence his shot was blocked for a corner.
On the hour mark Bafana had a free-kick in a good position, but ‘Shabba’ again hit the wall. Furman squared to Mulomowandau Mathoho from the rebound, but the big defender headed wide.
A scuffle broke out after the goal, and Khune had to race over to alert referee Mohamed Farouk Mahmoud, who quickly calmed the situation down.
The referee was under significant pressure, however, with reckless tackles flying in thick and fast, and the boisterous crowd questioning his every decision.
The hosts took the wind out of Bafana's sails when they took the lead 20 minutes from time. Parker rose to meet a free-kick and head powerfully past his own keeper, before dropping to the ground face down, as if he had been shot.
Khune became increasingly hot and bothered as the game wound down, trying frantically to get the officials' attention, and Bafana assistant coach Serame Letsoaka had to tell him to calm down.
After the match the Bafana skipper explained that the ball boy near his post was not available to him, and he was irritated by the Ethiopia goalkeeper's time-wasting.
Igesund pulled off Langerman for Katlego Mashego in the last 10 minutes, and Bafana continued to push forward in search of the equaliser that would have left them with some hope of qualifying.
Two minutes from time Segolela and Parker combined well at speed on the left, with Parker controlling well in the air. The ball ended up with Yeye, but he was unable to get the ball into the box and it was out for a corner.
Ethiopia came extremely close deep into injury time, when Said streaked down the pitch and had a shot, but the ball went just wide of the onrushing Khune's post, and the scoreline remained 2-1 at the final whistle.
Bafana face Botswana at home on September 6, while Central African Rebublic host Ethiopia, but the results are academic, as Ethiopia top Group A with 13 points, and will stay top no matter what the results of the final round of matches.
The Walia Antelopes advance to the third round of qualifying, where the 10 group winners from the second round are drawn into five home and away matches. The five winners advance to the 2014 World Cup.