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Mandela: SA's greatest son laid to rest (slideshow)
The world watched as Nelson Mandela was finally laid to rest in his hometown of Qunu following a dignified and moving funeral ceremony on Sunday.
Nelson Mandela celebrates his 90th birthday on Friday as a widely revered statesman, but South Africa faces a host of problems that challenge the dream he embodies of a harmonious rainbow nation.
Mandela, imprisoned for 27 years but forgiving of his former captors, is hailed as a shining example of the power of forgiveness and reconciliation.
His smile and sense of humour have made him a treasured international icon. He is rare among African leaders in agreeing to give up power quickly, after only one term following the 1994 end-of-apartheid elections.
He transcends races and opinions in South Africa itself, acclaimed by all sides of society, including white South Africans whose rule he fought to overthrow.
Yet his birthday comes at a time of crisis in the country under the rule of his successor, Thabo Mbeki, widely attacked for failures in fighting Aids, poverty, a major power crisis, violent crime and the disaster in neighbouring Zimbabwe.
Describing how Mbeki was hailed when he became president, Financial Mail editor Barney Mthombothi wrote this week: "Needless to say, their prince has turned out to be a frog."
He added: "Mandela united the country. Mbeki has divided it ... It's sad to see the current lot trashing his legacy."
Some analysts say the idea that Mandela represented a golden age of hope now betrayed is false.
"The first time I heard a claim from a journalist that Mandela's dream had been dashed was the beginning of 1995. It is part of a knee-jerk reaction to this kind of situation," said Professor Steven Friedman of Rhodes University.
But there is no doubt the euphoria of Mandela's rule has evaporated.
Many South Africans, especially the more educated, are leaving for other countries and others are talking about it.
A leaked research report commissioned by the government shows that 36% of the population are no longer committed to the country and 29% are considering emigration, the Mail & Guardian reported.
South Africa suffers some of the worst violent crime outside a war zone, especially in Gauteng around Johannesburg. The country has the world's highest HIV caseload.
Mbeki is accused by trade unions and the leftwingers in his own ruling African National Congress of business-friendly policies that have delayed bringing the fruits of black rule to the legions of poor. Unemployment stands at about 23%.
Growth in Africa's biggest economy is endangered by a power crisis that has robbed vital platinum and gold mines of electricity and threatens to stoke already high inflation, in turn fuelling unrest among trade unions and in poor townships.
Mbeki also stands accused of ineffective mediation in Zimbabwe, where a worsening crisis has flooded neighbouring countries, especially South Africa, with millions of refugees.
Those refugees were among the targets of a shocking outburst of xenophobic violence in May. Scenes of foreigners burned alive reminded many of the brutal violence at the end of apartheid.
Recent moves by the ANC have raised even more concern among commentators, with party leaders accused of a dangerous assault on the independence of the judiciary to protect new leader Jacob Zuma against corruption charges that could derail his expected succession to Mbeki in 2009.
But some analysts say the cries of doom are overblown.
Friedman told Reuters that while Mandela played a "brilliant and superb" role in reconciling the races, "he wasn't the Messiah and he isn't the Messiah".
Susan Booysen, a political analyst at Witwatersrand University, said: "The kind of dream we all cherished in the Mandela era had an expire-by date."
Analysts say Mandela's place in history is due to the way in which his inspirational leadership and power of reconciliation averted civil war at the end of apartheid and united the races in a new democracy against great odds.
But he was seen to have only a vague grasp of economic issues and left detailed policy to Mbeki, his deputy president, who effectively ran government, even then.
"Mbeki's great strength and weakness is that he is a policy wonk who is obsessed with all this stuff and pays absolutely no attention to people. Mandela was obsessed with people and ignored the policy," Friedman said.
"As a team they were pretty good, but when one has to rely on any one of them it became a bit of a problem."
And despite the many problems, optimism lingers.
"There is still, certainly a very strong grassroots expectation that this government stands a chance to make things better. It is a continuously adapting dream, not the end of the dream for a long time yet," said Booysen.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Mandela's friend and fellow Nobel Peace laureate, said in a newspaper birthday tribute: "We are richly blessed with the one who has made us believe that a rainbow nation is a viable proposition." -- Reuters