This paper sets out a general framework for analysing long-term care (LTC) systems for older people in different countries and then applies this framework to a specific national setting. The paper considers the extent to which South Africa's emerging LTC system conforms to broader patterns observed across low- and middle-income countries and how far it has been shaped by more local effects. It finds that patterns of demand for LTC vary across different racial categories. Despite having lower rates of ageing that the white population, Africans account for the majority of LTC demand. Residential services cater primarily for older whites and there is a widespread perception that LTC for Africans should be a family responsibility. Across the sector there is evidence of gaps in service availability, limited state oversight and uneven service quality. In 2016 this led to a high-profile political scandal which may prompt more effective state responses to this growing societal challenge.