Norway, with a team of inexperienced home-based players, scored the only goal from captain Tarik Elyounoussi four minutes before half-time.
Elyounoussi took advantage of some slopping defending to net from close range in the only real attack of the first half for the visitors, who are using their off-season to expose younger players to international football.
The result will not help the crisis of confidence affecting Bafana Bafana, who were hoping for a change in fortunes but failed to deliver on pre-match promises of attacking play and flair from their coach Gordon Igesund.
Instead they were stymied by a well-organised Norway side and after a show of poor finishing they will have more to contemplate some 10 days before the Nations Cup kick off.
It will also leave the home public sceptical about the team's chances at the 16-team tournament, which South Africa kick off against Cape Verde Islands at Soccer City in Johannesburg on January 19.
"I'm disappointed we lost the game, but we created a lot of good chances. We have to work now on using the possession better and not overelaborating so much on the ball," said Igesund.
South Africa conclude their preparations against fellow finalists Algeria in Soweto on Saturday. Norway play Nations Cup holders Zambia in Ndola, also on Saturday, in the last game of their brief African trip.
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- Bafana Bafana