At his inauguration, he stood hand on heart, saluted by white generals as he sang along to two anthems: the apartheid-era Afrikaans "Die Stem," ("The Voice") and the African "Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika" ("Lord Bless Africa").
To black South Africans expecting a speedy new deal, Mandela pleaded for patience. The millions denied proper housing, schools and health care under apartheid had expected the revolution to deliver quick fixes, but Mandela recognized he had to embrace free market policies to keep white-dominated big business on his side and attract foreign investment.
For all his saintly image, Mandela had an autocratic streak. When black journalists mildly criticized his government, he painted them as stooges of the whites who owned the media. Whites with complaints were dismissed as pining for their old privileges.
He denounced Bush as a warmonger and the U.S. having "committed unspeakable atrocities in the world." When asked about his closeness to Fidel Castro and Moammar Gadhafi despite human rights violations in the countries they ruled, Mandela explained that he wouldn't forsake supporters of the anti-apartheid struggle.
With his fellow Nobelist, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, he set up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which allowed human rights offenders of all races to admit their crimes publicly in return for lenient treatment. It proved to be a kind of national therapy that would become a model for other countries emerging from prolonged strife.
He increasingly left the governing to deputy president Thabo Mbeki, who took over when Mandela's term ended in June 1999 and he declined to seek another -- a rarity among African presidents.
"I must step down while there are one or two people who admire me," Mandela joked at the time. When he retired, he said he was going to stand on a street with a sign that said: "Unemployed, no job. New wife and large family to support."
His marriage to Winnie had fallen apart after his release and he was now married to Graca Machel, the widowed former first lady of neighboring Mozambique.
He is survived by Machel, his daughter Makaziwe by his first marriage, and daughters Zindzi and Zenani by his second.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.