JOHANNESBURG -- As much as the years could diminish Nelson Mandela's body and perhaps -- in the later stages of life -- his mind, they couldn’t diminish the man.There aren’t many politicians, especially ones engaged in battles as bitter and complex as the ones he fought, who left such a clean battlefield.
"What's so remarkable is that Nelson Mandela is now everybody's hero," says Mohammed Valli Moosa, who was one of Mandela's trusted lieutenants. "Everybody loves him. Blacks and whites. Everybody loves him."
Nelson Mandela's story was South Africa's story. But his special talent was to do the apparently impossible: to offer the hope of democracy to the oppressed black majority, while at the same time managing the fear of the change in the -- until then -- all-powerful white minority.
was a balancing act that columnists like Pinky Khoabane say only Mandela could
"People see him as completely above the politics of the day," Khoabane says. "Of his day and of the current day. I mean, they see no fault."
The promise of the new South Africa has not always been fulfilled. Democracy has not brought prosperity -- far from it.
South Africa's current leadership, under President Jacob Zuma, is wallowing in a storm of allegations of corruption and mismanagement.
"We've been very saddened by the deaths of all these stalwarts," Khoabane says of Mandela's generation. "And every time they go, we have this deep sense of sadness and loss, because they are in a different mold. We don't see this crass materialism that we see today."
South Africa will be burying more than a man. It will be burying some of its dreams.