Passive detection of tuberculosis (TB) cases may lead to delay in treatment which may contribute to increased severity of disease and mortality. Active case finding may be an alternative. In a community survey in Cape Town, South Africa, we actively detected 27 bacteriologically positive TB cases and compared those with 473 passively detected TB cases. Seven of 27 (26%) actively detected TB cases did not start treatment within 2 months and were considered initial defaulters. Those who did start treatment had similar treatment success rates as passively detected TB cases (both 80%) (OR 1.01, CI 0.33-3.09). Passively detected cases reported the presence of the symptoms cough (OR 3.72, 95% CI 1.47-9.39), haemoptysis (OR 3.20, 95% CI 1.03-9.93), night sweats (OR 3.35, 95% CI 1.40-7.99), fever (OR 4.28, 95% CI 1.21-15.14), and weight loss (OR 11.14, 95% CI 4.17-29.74) more often than those detected actively. We conclude that although TB cases detected by a community survey are less symptomatic and are prone to a high initial default rate, active case finding can potentially identify a substantial portion of the existing caseload at an earlier stage of disease, thereby reducing the risk of transmission.