Despite insecurity, South Africa reported 7.5 million tourist arrivals between January and October last year, a 10.4 increase over the same period in 2011, with many coming from Europe. Despite labor strife and credit rating downgrades, resource-rich South Africa will host Brazil, Russia, India and China at the "BRICS" summit this month.
But what is to blame for the persistent problems of a country that has proven it can shine, notably in its triumphant staging of the World Cup soccer tournament in 2010?
One view is that apartheid, which enforced inequality along racial lines, had a role in undercutting the society after it. Endowed with equal rights under the law, many South Africans expected better services and opportunities.
According to Pitika Ntuli, a South African poet and sculptor, the thinking among many South Africans was: "'I used to be insulted, I'm no longer called those things. Now the other things will come.'"
For many, that didn't happen. Expectations faded, anger mounted.
Some commentators say South Africa's new leaders, including Mandela, should have pushed harder to restructure an economy dominated by whites; opponents of that view say it would have alienated industries and set the country on a downward path similar to that of Zimbabwe after independence.
The African National Congress, the liberation party that has dominated since the end of apartheid, has also struggled to deliver on promises. It is a frontrunner ahead of 2014 elections, but corruption scandals and other missteps have hurt democracy's evolution.
"What has occurred since 1994 is the steady development of a fusion between party and state, accompanied by a refusal fully to accept the legitimacy of opposition parties," David Welsh and Paul Hoffman wrote in a commentary on the website of the Institute for Accountability in Southern Africa, a non-profit group.
On Sunday, the Nelson Mandela Center of Memory, which promotes the former president's ideas, tweeted something he once said: "I would venture to say that there is something inherently good in all human beings."
Mandela was also a realist and recognized the challenges that South Africa would face. The rest of his line goes:
"... deriving from, among other things, the attribute of social consciousness that we all possess. And, yes, there is also something inherently bad in all of us, flesh and blood as we are, with the attendant desire to perpetuate and pamper the self."
AP Senior Producer Ed Brown contributed to this report.
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