Tshabalala scored the tournament's first goal
Siphiwe Tshabalala gave hosts South Africa the perfect start.
The Kaizer Chiefs' midfielder, who was playing in his 50th international, crashed home an unstoppable left foot shot high and wide of Mexican goalkeeper Oscar Perez after 55 minutes of a hugely entertaining opening match in Group A on an emotional first day of the first World Cup staged in Africa.
Mexico took control early on as South Africa made a nervy start with Giovani Dos Santos running the midfield and setting up chances for himself, Guillermo Franco and Carlos Vela as South Africa were forced on the back foot.
Mexico went close to taking the lead after 37 minutes but Vela was ruled narrowly offside after putting the ball in the net and that proved to be the turning point of the game.
South Africa, who had begun to find some rhythm in the later stages of the first half, came out for the second having got over their stage-fright and there were no arguments about them taking the lead with a powerful shot from Tshabalala.
Five minutes later Itumeleng Khune denied Dos Santos with a superb save at the other end.
Image: South Africa's Siphiwe Tshabalala celebrates after scoring against Mexico
The opening goal served as a tonic for the hosts
After a barren opening session, the hosts sent the nearly capacity crowd into a frenzy by taking the lead barely five minutes into the second half with midfielder Siphiwe Tshabalala producing a gem of a goal.
After receiving a superb through pass, Tshabalala pierced through the defence with deft footwork and unleashed a booming pile-driver which sailed past the Mexican custodian Oscar Perez.
The goal virtually served as a tonic for the hosts as they suddenly looked a transformed side and kept their fancied opponents under pressure with a barrage of attacks.
Image: -South Africa's Siphiwe Tshabalala dances with team mates
Marquez equalised for Mexico
The Mexicans, who have made 14 appearances in the World cup finals, appeared a trifle nervous but still enjoyed territorial advantage in the fast-paced opening session with a series of raids.
El Tri eventually found the equaliser in the 79th minute when defender Rafael Marquez found the target, much to the relief of his teammates.
The equaliser was the result of a measured cross from Andres Guardado which found an unmarked Marquez lurking inside the South African box.
The Barcelona defender took his time and slotted in from close range, giving custodian Itumeleng Khune no chance at all.
Image: Mexico's Rafael Marquez celebrates after scoring against South Africa during the 2010 World Cup opening match at Soccer City
Mphela missed it twice
The South Africans, however, got a chance to tilt the balance in their favour in the 89th minute of the contest when striker Katlego Mphela broke through the defence but his shot hit the upright with the rival custodian out of position.
It was the forward's second miss of the match.
Mphela, had eralier in the opening half, failed to connect his header off Tshabalala's lovely cross much to the dismay of the cheering home crowd.
Image: South Africa's Mphela hits the goal post as he attempts to score against Mexico during the 2010 World Cup
'We weren't capable of putting away our chances'
Javier Aguirre, the Mexican coach, was left with a 'bittersweet' taste after the match.
"I think we had a very good first half, but we weren't capable of really putting away our chances," said the former Atletico Madrid coach.
"The team was confident, but we missed a few chances and things got complicated after they scored.
"Both teams are going away with a bittersweet taste and now we are forced to beat France in our next game."
Image: Mexico's head coach Javier Aguirre speaks with South Africa's head coach Carlos Alberto Parreira after their 2010 World Cup opening match