"Mandela may have been born an angel and died an angel, though in between he was anything but." That from one of my mates that was raised on a farm in South Africa and witnessed the violence that came with the changes to a non-segregated society. History has a way of softening the rough edges of its heroes. Abe freed the slaves for economic not moral reasons, Columbus slaughtered when enslavement didn't suit him, and Winnie Mandela used barbed-wire neckties on blacks that opposed her and her husband.
Mandela stole oxen from the chief of their village as a young man of 22. He wanted money for a better life in Johannesburg. The chief demanded that Mandela return to receive his punishment. He stayed in the city and got involved in politics instead.
Mandela joined the armed faction of the African National Congress. He was a violent man that used force and intimidation to get what he wanted. Then he got caught. Mandela would have likely been forgotten to history save for two things; the leaders of Apartheid made it illegal to mention his name or have anything bearing his likeness and Mandela quit advocating violence.
When the South African government put a man in prison for drinking from a cup with a picture of Mandela on it, they shone a spotlight the whole world could see on all the cracks and fissures in their system. None but prison guards and the few people allowed to visit Robben Island had any idea what Mandela looked like. No one had taken a picture of him in more than twenty years. This kept him young and beautiful, youth wasted in fighting for what he thought was right, even though he may not have gone about it the best way.
Mandela either had a legitimate change of heart or realized that by creating this Gandi-like persona he could become mythic. Maybe prison did change him. But I doubt it. If Mandela truly stood for a open and free society, South Africa would be in much better shape today. Mandela wasn't a champion of equality but of black power.
Don't get me wrong, Apartheid needed to go. But what S.A. has instead is not any better. Under Apartheid, South Africans of all colors enjoyed nearly 100% employment and education along with low crime(albeit out of fear of suffering violent repercussions if one stepped out of line). Now unemployment is closer to 60%, the Rand continues to do poorly, and violent crime has exploded. These days you can tell if the hotel is fancy because the door is guarded by two men with machine guns rather than just one.
There are now all sorts of requirements on how many of which color must be hired. Names of streets, towns, and airports have been changed by decree of the new regime. The country now has 11 official languages which will not foster unity. Only the African National Congress has ruled South Africa since the fall of Apartheid in 1994.
Mandela could have used his considerable global sway to get President Zuma to step down when his corruption activities came to light or when his sham of a rape trial acquitted him or when he said that he didn't need to wear a condom because the shower would take care of the AIDS virus, but Mandela did nothing.
Was Mandela a great leader and an inspiration? Without a doubt. Was he a great man? At times maybe, but all or even most of the time? Don't believe it.