In every living organism, cell division requires accurate identification of the division site and placement of the division machinery. In bacteria, this process is traditionally considered to begin with the polymerization of the highly conserved tubulin-like protein FtsZ into a ring that locates precisely at mid-cell1. Over the past decades, several systems have been reported to regulate the spatiotemporal assembly and placement of the FtsZ ring2, 3, 4, 5. However, the human pathogen Streptococcus pneumoniae, in common with many other organisms, is devoid of these canonical systems and the mechanisms of positioning the division machinery remain unknown4, 6. Here we characterize a novel factor that locates at the division site before FtsZ and guides septum positioning in pneumococcus. Mid-cell-anchored protein Z (MapZ) forms ring structures at the cell equator and moves apart as the cell elongates, therefore behaving as a permanent beacon of division sites. MapZ then positions the FtsZ ring through direct protein–protein interactions. MapZ-mediated control differs from previously described systems mostly on the basis of negative regulation of FtsZ assembly. Furthermore, MapZ is an endogenous target of the Ser/Thr kinase StkP, which was recently shown to have a central role in cytokinesis and morphogenesis of S. pneumoniae7, 8, 9. We show that both phosphorylated and non-phosphorylated forms of MapZ are required for proper Z-ring formation and dynamics. Altogether, this work uncovers a new mechanism for bacterial cell division that is regulated by phosphorylation and illustrates that nature has evolved a diversity of cell division mechanisms adapted to the different bacterial clades.