South Africa defended a total of 154-8 to record a 19-run victory over England in Group E of the World Twenty20.
Albie Morkel produced a fine all-round display, rescuing the Proteas' innings with a quick-fire 43 before taking 2-12 with the ball.
England captain Paul Collingwood opted to bowl first on a lively pitch at Newlands, and it looked a good decision when Stuart Broad (3-37) claimed the early wickets of JP Duminy (0) and Graeme Smith (19).
The South African middle-order linchpins of AB de Villiers (18) and Mark Boucher (29) both fell after making starts.
Shaun Pollock top-edged a pull off James Anderson (1-22) for a first-ball duck, and when Dimitri Mascarenhas (1-24) had Justin Kemp (21) caught behind from the first ball of the 15th over, the hosts were in deep trouble at 94-6.
Morkel rescue act
But Morkel - who was given a reprieve on 14 when Collingwood and Owais Shah both left the ball assuming the other was going to claim a catch at deep mid-on - bailed his side out with some powerful hitting.
The all-rounder struck four sixes - including three in a row to ruin Chris Schofield's (1-34) figures - during an innings of 43 from 20 balls that allowed South Africa to post a respectable 154-8.
England's run chase started badly when newly promoted opener Luke Wright - preferred to Darren Maddy - edged to point for a four-ball duck in Pollock's first over.
Kevin Pietersen, given the usual hostile reception in the land of his birth, joined Matt Prior and briefly brought the innings to life with three boundaries.
But Pietersen fell victim to a controversial run out when his bat was accidentally knocked from his grasp during a tangle with the bowler Pollock as he dived in vain to beat Makhaya Ntini's direct hit.
The third umpire ruled that Pollock's actions were not deliberate and sent Pietersen (15) on his way, replays supporting the contention that he was attempting to get out of the way rather than cause an obstruction.
Pollock then followed up by having Collingwood caught at first slip for a golden duck to complete figures of 2-17 from a superb four-over allocation.
From that point the required rate began to spiral out of control despite a battling innings of 32 from Prior and Shah's 36.
Neither man could find the boundary with the regularity that was needed, leaving Andrew Flintoff (17) and the lower order with little chance of salvaging a result.
South Africa's collection of fast and medium pace bowlers produced a disciplined effort, rarely straying in line-and-length, proof that the recipe for success in Twenty20 cricket remains the same as in the more serious forms of the game.
England eventually paid for their inability to find the boundary, finishing well short at 135-7. The result leaves Collingwood's men bottom of Group E, although they will progress to the semi-finals with victories against New Zealand next Tuesday and India the following day.