As dawn broke and commuters headed to work in the capital, Pretoria, the commercial hub, Johannesburg, and Cape Town in the south, many were still in shock at the passing of a man who was a global symbol of reconciliation and peaceful co-existence.
South Africans heard President Jacob Zuma tell them late on Thursday that the former president and Nobel Peace Prize laureate passed away peacefully at his Johannesburg home in the company of his family after a long illness.
Despite reassurances from leaders and public figures that Mandela's passing, while sorrowful, would not halt South Africa's advance away from its bitter apartheid past, some still expressed a sense of unease about the physical absence of a man famed as a peacemaker.
"It's not going to be good, hey! I think it's going to become a more racist country. People will turn on each other and chase foreigners away," said Sharon Qubeka, 28, a secretary from Tembisa township as she headed to work in Johannesburg.
"Mandela was the only one who kept things together," she said.
An avalanche of tributes continued to pour in on Friday for Mandela, who had been ailing for nearly a year with a recurring lung illness dating back to the 27 years he spent in apartheid jails, including the notorious Robben Island penal colony.
U.S. President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron were among world leaders and dignitaries who paid fulsome tribute to Mandela as a moral giant and exemplary beacon for the world.
American talk show host Oprah Winfrey added her voice to the tributes, saying Mandela "will always be my hero".
"His life was a gift to us all," she said in a statement.
But for South Africa, the loss of its most beloved leader comes at a time when the nation, which basked in global goodwill after apartheid ended, has been experiencing bloody labor unrest, growing protests against poor services, poverty, crime and unemployment and corruption scandals tainting Zuma's rule.