Background: Patients' views are being given more and more importance in policy-making. Understanding populations' perceptions of quality of care is critical to developing measures to increase the utilization of primary health care services. Using the data from the South African World Health Survey (WHS), the current study aims to evaluate the degree of health care service responsiveness (both out-patient and in-patient) and comparing experiences of individuals who used public and private services in South Africa. Methods: A population-based survey of 2352 participants (1116 men and 1236 women) was conducted in South Africa in 2003, the WHS – as part of a World Health Organization (WHO) project focused on health system performance assessment in member countries. Results: Health care utilization was among those who attended in-patient care 72.2% attended a public and 24.3% a private facility, and of those who attended out-patient care 58.7% attended a public and 35.7% a private facility. Major components identified for out-patient care responsiveness in this survey were highly correlated with health care access, communication and autonomy, secondarily to dignity, confidentiality and quality of basic amenities, and thirdly to health problem solution. The degree of responsiveness with publicly provided care was in this study significantly lower than in private health care. Overall patient non-responsiveness for the public out-patient service was 16.8% and 3.2% for private care. Discrimination was also one of the principal reasons for non-responsiveness in all aspects of provided health care. Conclusion: Health care access, communication, autonomy, and discriminatory experiences were identified as priority areas for actions to improve responsiveness of health care services in South Africa.