Incisive South African bowling and incompetent New Zealand batting saw the visitors win by a record 159 runs in Wellington to take a 2-1 lead in the five-match one-day international series.
The Proteas' 271 for eight was always competitive on a drop-in wicket that was slowing.
The Black Caps offered little resistance against a clinical bowling display which saw them dismissed for 112. The grimness was defined by the ironic cheers erupting with every single that tipped the total towards 100. Colin de Grandhomme top-scored with 34 not out from as many balls.
The total is New Zealand's lowest at home since Sri Lanka dismissed them for 73 in January 2007.
The innings was also their worst score against South Africa (previously 134 at Cape Town in December 1994) and trumped the biggest margin of defeat (143 runs at Auckland in March 1999)
Batsmen Dean Brownlie, Tom Latham, Neil Broom and Mitchell Santner made three runs between them.
The capitulation fueled fears that when Kane Williamson (23 from 40 balls) or Ross Taylor (18 from 40) do not ignite, the side's victory chances are minimal.
"I thought at halfway it wasn't a bad effort," Williamson said. "The bowlers applied themselves well. Going into that second innings South Africa exploited the conditions to make life difficult.
"As a batting unit we want to be better at sucking up that pressure. On drop-in surfaces it's difficult to pick up singles at times because the ball, with no block to work with, stops as it goes into the outfield.
"You can feel like you're not going anywhere. That's how Ross and I felt in those middle stages."
A red carpet is presumably in transit to welcome back a fit Martin Guptill to open in the final two matches.
That means a rejig at the top of the order. Latham seems the obvious candidate for a spell with 35 runs from his last seven ODI innings but that is complicated by his dual role as wicketkeeper. Luke Ronchi might return, but he has also struggled with 47 runs from five ODI innings this season. At least both are keeping well. A recall to Tom Blundell could be the compromise.
Given neither Neesham nor Williamson bowled today, New Zealand could stick with Latham or Ronchi and bolster the batting.
South Africa's innings was led by captain AB de Villiers' 85 from 80 balls. He became the fastest ODI batsman to 9000 runs during the innings, reached the mark in 205 innings, eclipsing Sourav Ganguly's 228.
Support from Wayne Parnell (35 off 32) in the latter overs helped post a seventh-wicket stand of 84 from 64 balls.
"I don't know how we got to 271," de Villiers said.
"I felt it was a difficult wicket to play on, I never felt in. A guy like de Grandhomme moved it all over the place, which helped us because we had bowlers who could do the same. I don't think it did more in the second innings, we just caught our catches and created more chances."
The innings was never a smooth curve of acceleration.
South Africa eased to 114 for one in 22 overs before New Zealand's exposed some middle order vulnerability. They took five wickets for 66 from 16.2 overs through the heart of the innings - a run rate of just 4.04.
De Grandhomme took two wickets in four deliveries as part of 10 straight overs that conceded 40 runs.
First, Faf du Plessis (36 off 46 balls) mistimed a drive to Tim Southee at mid-off, ending an 81-run second-wicket stand. Next, Quinton de Kock (68 off 70) hooked to Neesham at deep square leg after posting his fifth consecutive ODI half-century, a feat only matched by Jonty Rhodes among his countrymen. Kepler Wessels got one for Australia and four for South Africa across a six-year hiatus.