The nation stood still as the news of his death was echoed into homes through television screens and radio sets.
Mandela had been in hospital for three months earlier that year, which left the country expecting his passing. But nobody seemed prepared for it.
People were left reeling and during a 10-day mourning period they pulled together, all with the same feeling of being united in grief but at the same time, in celebrating his life.
Tata Madiba, as he is affectionately known, said at a rally in Cape Town on his release from Victor Verster Prison: “I stand here before you, not as a prophet, but as a humble servant of you, the people. I place the remaining years of my life in your hands.’’
And, as South Africans honour Tata Madiba today, marking the first commemoration of his death, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu asks that we “don’t give up hope” and continue to build the society he once envisaged.
“It is a year since we lost our beloved Madiba, our extraordinary pillar of strength. We thank God for him and the example he gave us,” Tutu said.
“He taught us about the worth of a human being – all human beings. When he encountered you he never looked at your dress or your ethnicity or class. He respected everyone for who they were. The monument to Madiba’s life is our non-racial democracy and our Constitution. We must treasure our Constitution because it directly reflects our astonishing founder.”
Madiba had taught us all a lesson “over and over”, said Tutu: “Don’t give up hope. This is as valid in the context of his legacy today as it was in 1963, when he was sentenced to life imprisonment, and in 1994.
“Our obligation to Madiba is to continue to build the society he envisaged, to follow his example. A society founded on human rights, in which all can share in the rich bounty God bestowed on our country. In which all can live in dignity, together. A society of better tomorrows for all.
“Let us follow in his footsteps and do ourselves proud.”
Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa asked that South Africans keep Madiba’s legacy alive by “living his values in every aspect of our own lives”.
There should be “unflinching sacrifice” in the humble service of all of humanity, he said.
“All South Africans are urged to play their part in… efforts to build a better South Africa, in a better Africa, in a better world, and in memory of this icon of our people, Nelson Mandela.”
A year ago, Madiba was welcomed home to Qunu, in the Eastern Cape, by the name given to him at his initiation: “Ah! Dalibhunga” – We cherish your legacy.