He was one of the greatest statesmen of the 20th century, a hero and an inspiration to millions in South Africa and many more around the world.
But now the 'Long Walk' is over for Nelson Mandela, or 'Madiba' as he was known at home. The towering figure of South Africa's anti-apartheid movement has died. He was 95.
He meant many things to many people but it was his essential and core messages of forgiveness, reconciliation and tolerance, in the most challenging of circumstances that resonated the most with people across the globe.
Yet even in death Mandela was uniting his people.
The South Africa of today, despite ... [the] challenges [it faces], is so profoundly and fundamentally a better place than it ever could be under apartheid that one has to say on aggregate that his life's work has largely been achieved.
Young and old, people of all colours, ages and backgrounds gathered outside his home and in Soweto to express their gratitude to a man who gave them everything he had; not through tears but in song.
Mandela's fellow Nobel laureate, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, was quick to play down fears of tension in South Africa. "To suggest that South Africa might go up in flames - as some have predicted - is to discredit South Africans and Madiba's legacy," he said.
Mandela's legacy is, of course, tied to that of South Africa's ruling party - the African National Congress (ANC).
He was the first commander of the ANC's armed wing - 'the Spear of the Nation' - in the 1960s and involved in guerrilla attacks against apartheid government targets.
Decades later, Mandela led the ANC to success in South Africa's first democratic elections and became the country's first black president.
He stepped down after just one term, in 1999, but the ANC continued to be South Africa's most dominant political force, winning more than 60 percent of the national parliamentary vote in every election since 1994.
In recent years, the ruling party has faced mounting criticism over corruption, cronyism and in-fighting between its members, with some accusing it of exploiting the memory of apartheid in order to position itself as the only true champion of South Africa's black majority.
But, despite all its problems, the ANC is all but assured of a win in the upcoming 2014 elections.
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Twenty years after the fall of apartheid, South Africa has not fully realised Nelson Mandela's vision of a country where everyone is equal. But, today, it is not race that is the biggest hurdle to equality.
A recent survey by the South African Reconciliation Barmoeter found that class is seen as the most divisive social issue in the country.
Race has dropped to fourth place on a list where disease and political parties are seen as the second and third most divisive factors. And when asked about their perceptions of progress since democracy, the gap between rich and poor was seen as one of the few things that had worsened.
What then is Nelson Mandela's legacy for South Africa and what progress has the country made since the end of apartheid?
Inside Story, with presenter Stephen Cole, discusses with guests: Ebrahim Fakir, from the Electoral Institute for the Sustainability of Democracy in Africa; Allister Sparks, a veteran political analyst, historian and author of several books on South Africa; and Andrew Feinstein, a former African National Congress member and author of After the Party: Corruption, the ANC and South Africa's Uncertain Future.
"I think the indicators are quite clear, the social problems seem almost intractable. But, no doubt, that if you look closely at the last 12 hours there has been a certain resurgence of hope, there's been a certain resurgence of optimism which accompanies the sadness and the disappointment at Mandela's passing."
Ebrahim Fakir, from the Electoral Institute for the Sustainability of Democracy in Africa
Source: Al Jazeera