Butch James helped himself to 23 points as he kicked nine out of nine goalkicks - five penalties and four conversions - and by the end of the game Wales had conceded two more tries in one afternoon than they did throughout the 2008 Six Nations campaign.
The Springboks, playing their first game under new Coach Peter de Villiers, went into the match at a half-full Vodacom Stadium with only five of their starting line-up from the 2007 Rugby World Cup final in Paris. Wales started with nine of their 2008 Grand Slam side.
A lack of accuracy cost Wales dear in the opening half and they made five handling errors in the opening 11 minutes. The shuddered in the face of some tigerish South African defence and a series of penalties allowed James to give the home side a comfortable start.
James kicked four penalties in the first 23 minutes, converted a mesmeric try from Conrad Jantjes and then dug Wales in the ribs once more on the stroke of half-time with a fifth penalty.
That last success was crucial because it came a few minutes after Wales had finally managed to hold onto the ball for more than a few phases and conjured up a try for fullback Jamie Roberts. It all started, quite predictably, with some broken field running from Shane Williams from a quickly taken penalty just inside his own half.
Matthew Rees and Ian Gough joined in as the move built towards the Springbok 22 and then Williams figured twice more in the move before Sonny parker showed his strength by bouncing off two tacklers to give Roberts a clear run to the left corner.
Stephen Jones's touchline conversion cut the gap to nine points and, all of a sudden, it looked as though Gatland's call for his players to earn the respect of the world champions might ring true.
Wales began the second period positively, yet they were bedevilled by the same problems of the first-half in spilling passes and conceding turn-overs. When skipper Ryan Jones lost the ball in a maul six minutes after the re-start it was too good an opportunity for his opposite number, John Smit, to miss and he gave the centre jean de Villiers a direct route to the line for another try.
Defence had been the key for Wales during their march to an unlikely Grand Slam and they conceded only two tries in five games. By the time scrum half Bolla Conradi had handed on to No.8 Pierre Spies they had conceded more than that in only 55 minutes.
The Welsh response was at least pleasing on the eye as a long pass from James Hook found Mark Jones who in turn released to Morgan Stoddart. The replacement full back sucked in the last man and somehow freed Shane Williams on the left.
It was the moment we had all been waiting for, Williams against the cross field covering Bryan Habana. It turned into a no contest as Williams stepped inside his man and raced to the posts.
If that was at least something for Welsh fans to savour, the truth was it was much too little, too late. Habana almost responded, but was held up over the line, although the Springboks did round off proceedings with a final try from Percy Montgomery.
Monty came on as a replacement in the second half to earn his 95th cap. His try took his personal points tally against Wales to 97 in eight outings - 10 years on from his 31 points haul in the 96-13 thrashing in Pretoria, where the two sides meet next weekend.
Tries: C Jantjes, J de Villiers, P Spies, P Montgomery
Cons: B James (4)
Pens: B James (5)
Tries: J Roberts, S Williams
Cons: S Jones, J Hook
Pen: S Jones.
Yellow Cards: 75 CJ van der Linde (South Africa) and R Hibbard (Wales) for fighting.
South Africa: C Jantjes; T Chavhanga, A Jacobs (P Montgomery 61), J de Villiers, B Habana; B James (P Grant 72), J Conradie (R Pienaar 57), G Steenkamp (CJ van der Linde 24-32), J Smit (captain, B du Plessis 57), B Mujati (CJ van der Linde 45), B Botha (D Rossouw 58-64), A Bekker (V Matfield 45), L Watson, J Smith, P Spies.
Wales: J Roberts (M Stoddart 54); M Jones, T Shanklin, S Parker, S Williams; S Jones (J Hook 54), G Cooper (W Fury 62); G Jenkins, M Rees (R Hibbard 54), A Jones (D Jones 54), I Gough (I Evans 67), A-W Jones, J Thomas, D Jones (G Delve 57), R Jones (captain).
Referee: D Pearson (England)