The occasion was his last address to Parliament. Not that the much-loved and acclaimed statesman intended to be a hermit.
Mandela must have foreseen how easy it is for a nation to crave for a past and return to call on the former leaders for one thing or another.
We are seeing this with the intermittent return of Thabo Mbeki - whether in his own person or through those who hate or venerate him - to the public space. This week it was Mbeki in the flesh that had his audience at the packed hall, listening on radio and watching on TV, eating out of the palm of his hand.
It is trite that the former president is a controversial figure. He has as many admirers as he has those who loathe him.
His return to the public space should not be read as an endorsement of his time in office. Of course, for many, it is.
It should rather be read as an inkling for a past that, though fraught with many ills, was a time of relative predictability for the party and nation he lead.
Put simply, South Africa is craving for leadership. It is calling on anyone who appears to have a road map to take us out of the political, economic and even moral maze we find ourselves as a country.
This is a dangerous place for any nation to find itself in. It implies we have not cultivated leaders with the ability to deal with contemporary problems.
So instead of as much time as we are on past leaders, whatever their merits, South Africa should work harder at finding and nurturing a cadre of new and future leaders able to address contemporary issues facing our nation.
We should be the ones telling leaders that we will call them, they must not call us.
* Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya is editor of The Mercury. Follow him on Twitter @fikelelom