While he lived, he gave South Africa optimism that the Mandela dream of a fair and equitable society could be realised. But his death will shake the country to the core in no less a way than the impact of the deaths of Mahatma Gandhi and John F Kennedy on their countries.
South Africa's public protector Thuli Madonsela has pointed accusing fingers at corruption in the government.
Ms Madonsela, who has become one of South Africa's most famous faces with her delivery of detailed forensic investigations into widening allegations of corruption, was one of 11 technical experts who helped in the drafting of the final constitution of South Africa in 1994.
She is said to have delivered a searing indictment of the administration of President Jacob Zuma in three damning leaked reports that purport to expose gross misconduct, deceit, unlawful acts and outright corruption at the highest level of government.
One report is understood to have suggested President Zuma should repay some of the $20million (£12m) spent on upgrades to his rural home.
On Thursday, Ms Madonsela called on President Zuma to punish his agriculture minister over "improper" handling of a fisheries patrol contract, the latest scandal to hit his cabinet six months before an election.
In scathing criticism, Ms Madonsela accused Tina Joematt-Pettersson, Minister Of Agriculture, Forestry And Fisheries, of reckless conduct that led to a waste of state money and an increase in illegal fishing.
Joematt-Pettersson, who was previously criticised by the watchdog for flying her children and nanny home from holiday in Sweden at taxpayers' expense, also tried to interfere in the investigation into her department, Ms Madonsela said.
The 2013 Corruption Perception Index - a global ranking of clean government and clean business - ranked South Africa 72nd out of 177 countries, providing an unwelcome early Christmas present for all forms of South African government and delivering embarrassment to the ruling party on the eve of what is set to be this country's most contentious election since democracy.
In September, President Zuma admitted a total of 2638 officials were found guilty of misconduct between September 2004 and August 31 this year.
One thousand police officers have been arrested for alleged offences over the past three years in the province of Gauteng alone.
Four years ago, charges of racketeering, corruption, money laundering and fraud were controversially dropped against Mr Zuma shortly before he was elected.
Mr Zuma has since been seen as someone who has often sought to bask in Mandela's glory, often citing him in speeches and kneeling before him during the former's 2009 inauguration, in what appeared by some to be a desperate attempt for popularity.
With Mr Zuma and his ruling African National Congress (ANC) facing an election next year, the corruption accusations have angered South Africans, many of whom are poor and jobless and feel their lives have not improved since the end of apartheid in 1994.
Next year, the twentieth anniversary of South African democracy, marks the first elections in which those born after the end of apartheid in 1994 will be eligible to vote.
And South Africa's political landscape has been steadily changing , with opposition parties - in particular the Democratic Alliance - chipping away at the parliamentary majority of the ANC, the liberation movement that has always run post-apartheid South Africa.
Many have speculated that the death of Mandela would break the ANC's powerful emotional grip on many South Africans.
Political economist Moeletsi Mbeki, brother of Mr Mandela's presidential deputy and successor, Thabo, dismisses talk of a race war but believes a different kind of unrest is possible. "Ironically, if there is a conflict, it will not be between black and white," he said. "That story is past history. If there is any conflict, it will primarily be a class conflict among the blacks, which is where we're heading.
"There are massive inequalities that have emerged among blacks. There is huge corruption that is galloping from the black leadership who are running the government in South Africa, massive poverty in the black population and de-industrialisation of the economy because of wayward policies of the black government."