The Warriors collect their first ever bronze medal in the tournament, scoring all of their penalties in the shoot-out, while the unlucky Tsoarelo Bereng missed for Lesotho.
Zimbabwe were missing many of their leading players, who had flown out for a friendly international against Nigeria in Lagos on Thursday but still had enough in reserve to deny the Crocodiles.
Zimbabwe grabbed an early lead when Tafadzwa Rusike managed to beat Lesotho goalkeeper Thabiso Lichaba to the ball and poked it into the back of the net.
But Lesotho have shown fighting spirit throughout this tournament and found their equaliser just past the half-hour mark when Jane Thaba-Ntso provided a neat finish.
Hlompho Kalake missed a good chance to give Lesotho the lead on 55 minutes when he volleyed wide with the keeper rooted to the spot, and Zimbabwe went straight up the other end, only for Rodwell Chinyengetere to miss a one-on-one with Lichaba.
But it was the Warriors who scored next, as Leeroy Mavunga breezed through the Lesotho defence before producing a sublime finish on 61 minutes.
Lesotho, to their credit, kept fighting and they levelled when halftime substitute Bereng scored from just outside the box, the bounce beating replacement Zimbabwe keeper Talbert Shumba.
South Africa collected the Plate competition for the third year in a row after a 5-4 penalty shoot-out victory over Malawi, who were playing their sixth match in 13 days.
The game finished goalless as both teams missed a host of chances, with the South Africans the most generous in front of goal.
They also struck the woodwork via a Kamohelo Mahlatsi header and failed to find the target on numerous occasions when well-placed to shoot.
Goalkeeper Mondli Mpoto made some good stops in the game and also saved a penalty from Malawi captain John Banda in the shoot-out as the home side triumphed following three draws in the competition that all needed penalties to decide them.
Saturday is the grand final where Zambia will seek to make up for the disappointment of losing the last to Cosafa Cup deciders in a row when they face-off against Botswana.
The Zebras are seeking their maiden title, and to become the sixth country to lift the title in all, but come up against a determined Chipolopolo outfit with star striker Lazarous Kambole leading the line.
This will be Zambia’s ninth Cosafa Cup final – joining Zimbabwe on the list of most final appearances in the competition.
But they have won just two and lost six of the previous eight appearances, as their other tournament wins, in 1997 and 1998, came when the competition was contested on a round-robin format with no finals.
Zambia have needed penalty shoot-outs for victory in each of their previous two games in the competition – both by 4-2 margins. They defeated Malawi (2-2) and old foes Zimbabwe (0-0) to reach the decider.
Botswana defeated hosts South Africa 5-4 in a shoot-out in their quarterfinal, before edging Lesotho 2-1 in the semifinals.
The winners of the final will take home R500,000 in prize-money, with the runners-up to receive R250,000.
South Africa 0 Malawi 0 – after extra-time. South Africa won 5-4 on penalties
Cup Third-Place Play-Off
Lesotho 2 (Thaba-Ntso 33’, Bereng 68’) Zimbabwe 2 (T. Rusike 14’, Mavunga 61’) – Zimbabwe won 5-4 on penalties.
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