The building that houses South Africa's highest court, made partly with bricks from an apartheid-era prison, symbolises what Nelson Mandela hoped his country would become, a haven of tolerance, wiser for the nation's past anguish.
Its mosaics, slanting columns, and natural light are meant to welcome people to the Constitutional Court, guardian of a charter devoted to human rights and clean governance.
Nearby, a former jail complex where Nelson Mandela was held echoes a time when whites often resorted to violence to impose their rule over the black majority.
It is a neat fusion of history and aspiration. In reality, the country once dubbed the 'Rainbow Nation' is drifting between poles, cursed by crime and poverty, blessed with talent and resources, a trailblazer of reconciliation that elected Mandela as its first black president in 1994 elections but still can't find harmony.
The anti-apartheid leader and Nobel laureate returned to his Johannesburg home yesterday after spending a night in a hospital for what presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj said was a "successful" medical exam. Maharaj said Mandela was "well."
The 94-year-old, however, has grown increasingly frail over the years. In December, he spent three weeks in a hospital where he was treated for a lung infection and had a procedure to remove gallstones.
The revered leader's brief hospitalisation comes at a time when South Africa is struggling to live up to the promise that Mandela has come to symbolise.
"Although he's old, he's a real father to South Africa," said Thembeni Sebego, a resident of the Soweto township in Johannesburg. "We need him very, very, very much. But what can we do? If God calls him, it's time, because he's old now, he's old."
Though he withdrew from public life years ago, Mandela is seen by many compatriots as a hero, a symbol of hope, even a psychological refuge from the social ills and uneven leadership that prevail in South Africa.