Striker Mphela made it 22 goals from 44 international appearances by levelling eight minutes after half-time with a free-kick which drifted over the wall and into the corner of the net past motionless Boubacar Barry.
Both sides had chances to win the lively, combative friendly as they displayed good ball retention and were always seeking opportunities to attack in partly cloudy conditions.
The result meant Côte d'Ivoire surrendered their perfect record this year having beaten Benin twice, Rwanda and Burundi in 2012 CAF Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers, and Mali and Israel in friendlies.
"We need someone to score goals," lamented South Africa coach and former national team striker Pitso Mosimane. "We created four good chances but did not take any of them."
Côte d'Ivoire coach Francois Zahoui said: "It was a very exciting game with both sides prepared to attack. Now we must study the video tape and learn from it ahead of the Cup of Nations."