CAPE TOWNÂ Â (AFP) â€“ Nelson Mandelaâ€™s lengthy absence from the spotlight has forced his adoring country to envisage what their hard-won and often fraught multi-racial democracy means without the man who forged it.
The beloved and frail 94-year-old, who is back in hospital with a lung infection, still embodies for most South Africans the â€œRainbow Nationâ€ he strived for despite endless persecution at the hands of white apartheid rulers.
However having stepped out of the public eye nearly a decade ago, during which South Africa has battled turbulent political crises and scandals, analysts say Mandelaâ€™s influence has waned.
â€œThe bottom line is that Mr Mandela has not been at the moral and political centre of South Africa for a very long time,â€ political commentator Eusebius McKaiser said of the former president last seen in public in 2010.
â€œWe have let go of him ages ago.â€
His hospitalisation has triggered an outpouring of wishes for his recovery.
The office of President Jacob Zuma says the 94-year-old remains in a serious but stable condition.