Across the Rainbow Nation, from towns on the shimmering Indian Ocean to cities on the sprawling Highveld, South Africans of all creeds and colours prayed in memory of their hero on Sunday.
Amid the pangs of sorrow, Mandela's death has rekindled that same spirit of unity that two decades before allowed South Africa to avert bloody racial violence and all out civil war.
But his death has also opened a new, less assured, chapter in South African history.
Nearly two decades after the collapse of apartheid, South Africans say they are yet to enjoy the full fruits of freedom.
Income inequality between black and white citizens is stark, and by some measures is worse than it was at the end of apartheid.
One in three workers is without a job or has given up looking.
Labour strikes and violent protests over services are an almost daily occurrence, attacks on migrants from elsewhere in Africa all too common.
Today South Africans grumble at crime and government corruption.
"After he spent 27 years in prison, we thought the country by now would be somewhere, but we are still where we were," said a visibly angry Lele Phillip Modikoane, 65, whose father was Mandela's jail mate on Robben Island.
Mandela's wish was "to have one rainbow nation, and... for everybody to live peacefully and affordably," said Modikoane standing in front of the late leader's former house in Soweto.
Instead, "we are all in a pool of confusion," he said.
In many ways South Africa's democratic innocence was already lost 17 months earlier, when on scrubland at Marikana police shot down 34 striking miners in a single day of carnage.
But with Mandela gone, the country will now have to navigate these challenges without a trusted leader.
His successors, Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma, have tried to channel his memory.
"We should pray for us not to forget some of the values that Madiba stood for, that he fought for, that he sacrificed his life for," Zuma told a remembrance service Sunday.
But they hold nothing like the same gravitas.
Marketing executive Jameel Vally also wants government to uphold Mandela's "legacy of and struggle," but is not so optimistic.
"Bribery and corruption is rife," he said after paying respects at Mandela's old house in Soweto. "We hope to have a better South Africa but I don't think things will get better."
"The young generation is growing up in an environment of corruption, and background plays a role in shaping an individual."
Against this malaise the ANC and Zuma face elections next year.
Some South Africans hold the hope that Mandela's death could be an opportunity for a shakeup.
"I hope now that he has passed on people will remember and make their decisions and cast their votes for people who represent his values and dreams," said Pretoria school teacher Liska Leslie.