The building that houses South Africa's highest court, made partly with bricks from an apartheid-era prison, symbolizes 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 trail-blazer of reconciliation that elected Mandela as its first black president in 1994 elections but still can't find harmony.