The major causes of maternal and perinatal deaths have been well described in South Africa. These causes are related to HIV infection, placental insufficiency and intrapartum asphyxia. The health system failures that most commonly lead to preventable mortality are related to managing hypertensive disorders in pregnancy (HDP), detecting fetal growth restriction antenatally and managing labour effectively by providing caesarean delivery to those who need it and avoiding it in those who do not. Improving antenatal and intrapartum care are vital aspects in efforts to improve survival, but to achieve this the following challenges need to be overcome: managing the increased antenatal care contacts needed to detect HDP creating a next level of expertise, and access for women to high-risk care creating the environment for respectful care and companionship in labour managing labour as physiologically as possible detecting and managing placental insufficiency. This article provides some exciting solutions to these health system barriers.