15 years after liberation from apartheid, South Africans are facing new challenges for which the highest calibre of leadership, vision, and commitment is needed. The effect of the unprecedented HIV/AIDS epidemic has been immense. Substantial increases in mortality and morbidity are threatening to overwhelm the health system and undermine the potential of South Africa to attain the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). However The Lancet's Series on South Africa has identified several examples of leadership and innovation that point towards a different future scenario. We discuss the type of vision, leadership, and priority actions needed to achieve such a change. We still have time to change the health trajectory of the country, and even meet the MDGs. The South African Government, installed in April, 2009, has the mandate and potential to address the public health emergencies facing the country--will they do so or will another opportunity and many more lives be lost?