In the resource-poor settings where dog rabies remains endemic, the demonstration of a need to divert scarce funds towards exhaustive surveillance activities is no easy task. Here, we investigate a recent case of human rabies in South Africa, which generated much public interest and wide media coverage. One of the factors contributing to the hype was an uncertainty about the geographical origin of the infection. This provided an opportunity to highlight the importance of increased regional surveillance and basic phylogeographical analyses in rabies control and elimination strategies. Our aim was to elucidate the origins of the virus responsible for this case, as the patient was from a well-vaccinated area that had been free from dog rabies cases for many years. The phylogeographical techniques that we applied would also be most useful in any end-stage infectious disease control programme, specifically in verifying the source of novel cases in order to rapidly respond towards maintaining the integrity of disease-free areas. The most likely origin of our case was shown to be from outside the disease-free area and indeed from outside the country of South Africa. We conclude that phylogeographical techniques can provide rapid and statistically rigorous answers to epidemiologically pertinent questions that impact on disease control strategies and resource allocation, but this will require coordinated regional surveillance practices.