They say the death of Nelson Mandela was a shock to Americans.

But why? The man was 95 years old and had been hospitalized for weeks.

There’s no doubt his family and doctors knew the end was near, and yet …

From the moment the news hit the wires and was announced on radio and television, it spread like wildfire across the Internet.

The reality of the loss is giving way to the growth of Mandela as a mystic figure, an image that grows every day.

The myth of the Kennedy legend and Camelot is nothing compared to this and what it will be after this week of memorials and the funeral.

The family’s first statement since Mandela’s death announcement, expressed that “We have lost a great man, a son of the soil. …”

But Nelson Mandela was much more than that. Regardless of the image of simplicity, he was a complicated man, a lawyer, who, early in his life, was not averse to using violence to gain his objectives.

He was stubborn in his beliefs and yet became in his lifetime, a figure of compassion, forgiveness, courage and the stalwart in his belief that South Africa needed to be rid of apartheid and the horrors that came with it.

His early efforts used violence through the African National Congress, or ANC, which he founded. There were strikes and boycotts and terrorist bombings leading to deaths and maiming.

It was a rebellion against the white-dominated government. He stood trial and admitted the violence, but ultimately was convicted of sedition – sabotage against the government – and sentenced to life in prison on Robben Island.

But the myth grew, portraying Mandela as the civil rights leader in Africa, if not the world.

Anger and strife increased and South Africa became a tinderbox. The greatest fear was that if all out war broke out between blacks and whites, there would be a blood bath. It only needed a spark, which was fully expected.

Political pressure to release Mandela grew from leaders around the world – he’d been in prison for 27 years. Governmental change was about to take place.

He was freed, and negotiations began between Mandela and South African President F.W. de Klerk. They were delicate and critical and engendered fierce anger on both sides.

That the two men, of such differing experiences and backgrounds, could come up with a solution to end apartheid, white minority rule, without embroiling the country in a monstrous and incredibly violent revolution, was a credit to them both.

In fact, in 1993, the two men accepted a Nobel Peace Prize.

The one word most often being used today about Nelson Mandela is that he had the incredible gift of forgiveness. And he did, but …

Yes, he was a communist.

Yes, he was accused of terrorism and had no compunction about using violence and killing to accomplish the ANC goals.

Yes, he spent 27 years in prison, mainly on Robben Island, off the coast of Capetown.

Yes, he became the first black president of South Africa and sought reconciliation with internal enemies.

Yes, despite that, he consorted with and appeared to be on good terms with tyrants, leaders who were the enemies of the free world: Castro, Khadafy, Mugabe, Arafat and others.

There was little or no criticism for those associations.

If anyone were a Teflon president, it was Nelson Mandela.

After prison, he created his theme of forgiveness, of moving beyond the past and working for a better tomorrow.

Regardless of guilt or innocence, it could not have been easy and it would take a person of extraordinary strength to come out of that and live a relatively normal life – but that’s exactly what Mandela did.

He wanted a rainbow nation – a country where no one was under the thumb of another, especially because of race.

That was his dream, but the country that’s evolved from that fateful day of Mandela’s inauguration is embroiled in racial turmoil: blacks are in charge. Other races, especially whites, are targeted and the foundation of a police state has been laid.

Racial tensions are severe – blacks against whites – and there are many cases in which law enforcement seemingly lacks the authority or the will to pursue justice in crimes by blacks against whites.

To hear news reports, you’d think that South African blacks are just sweet people with not a hint of violence in them.

That’s certainly true of some but not all.

The murder rate in sky high; the usual victims are white – male and female, young and old.

Farmers are targeted for particularly vicious murders, entire families tortured and killed, their land despoiled – crimes committed by young mobs roaming the cities and countryside.

These are sadistic killings, enough to turn your stomach. They’re killed for one reason: They’re white.

There are estimates that women are raped every 30 seconds every day and that children are raped and murdered every day.

Car-jacking is routine, as is the killing of the drivers before the car is taken.

Now, whites are in a prison of sorts.

Homes, even in modest neighborhoods are surrounded with high walls or fences, guarded by trained dogs and equipped with electric fences and motion detectors. Exterior doors and windows are barred and alarmed. Interiors have motion detectors, and bedroom doors have separate alarms.

On top of all this, often security guards are hired for daily patrol.

I’ve been there and seen it, talked with many residents and saw their lives. At one gathering of people, every single one, or one of their family members, had been mugged, carjacked or killed.

In every case, the attacker was black, the victim white.

Nelson Mandela may have had high ideals, but that’s no guarantee the country will change.

Who are the new politicians? After Mandela, there was Russian-trained President Thabo Mbeki and now, after him, President Jacob Zuma, a communist. Scandals swirled around both and the people around them are too often corrupt, leading South Africa down the same road to destruction.

RIP Nelson Mandela – but the task you began is a long way from being accomplished, despite the media myth making.

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