South Africa's rate of tuberculosis (TB) has increased over the last 20 years, to now having the third-highest TB burden in the world. The TB control programme has primarily focused on effective case management of passively presenting TB cases, and progress has been recorded towards international treatment targets. While outcomes for notified TB cases have improved, this strategy failed to contain the TB epidemic. South Africa has the highest per capita annual risk of TB disease of comparably sized countries globally, and its communities have extremely high TB transmission rates. The rates of TB infection of children and adolescents are now similar to those reported 100 years ago in Europe long before chemotherapy became available. High rates of HIV testing of TB patients in Cape Town allows analysis of TB notification data stratified by age, type of TB and HIV status, and a better understanding of TB epidemiology. TB infection prevalence data from Cape Town communities allow estimation of the prevailing force of TB infection and, together with TB notification and prevalence data, the effective number of secondary infections and case finding proportions can be estimated. This better understanding of the major drivers of the TB epidemic allows reasons to be identified for failure of the present strategy. New control strategies can also be identified, that must be accompanied by novel TB control targets.