JOHANNESBURG- Nelson Mandela's legacy of tolerance formed the basis of South Africa's democracy, but profound inequalities inherited from decades of racial segregation linger.
The country's first black president oversaw the transition of a deeply polarised society while reaching out to former oppressors, notably by having tea with the widow of the architect of apartheid's white minority rule.
"He established enough of a foundation for us to build on," said political analyst Adam Habib of the University of Johannesburg.
Mandela famously sipped tea with the widow of Hendrik Verwoerd and donned a South African rugby jersey to present the 1995 World Cup trophy at a time when most black people scoffed at the sport as a white man's pastime.
"He was able to reach out across the divides. That was important at the time we needed it," said analyst Steven Friedman of the Institute of Democracy in South Africa.
Walking free from 27 years of apartheid jail in 1990, Mandela was revered by all races as a beloved hero and credited with helping bridge divides.
But the public got accustomed to him being out of the spotlight in recent years.
His last political appearance was in April 2009 at an election rally for his African National Congress (ANC) party where he issued a caution on the huge challenges still facing the country.
"As we strive to secure a decisive victory for our organisation in the upcoming elections, we must remember our primary task. It is to eradicate poverty and ensure a better life for all."
As president, Mandela delegated many daily duties to his deputy Thabo Mbeki, who succeeded him in 1999 as South Africa underwent strong growth until 2009 to become the continent's financial giant, while extending its social services.