Sunlight had just broken over the hills of Natal province when a motorcade escorted by South African Defence Force troops and police brought Mr Mandela to the sight of the tomb.
Mr Mandela, 76, laid a wreath then walked down towards the high school where 300 journalists were cajoling officials of the ANC and the Independent Electoral Commission to set up the ballot box to capture the most famous vote in South Africa's history in the best possible position.
As he moved towards a verandah where the ballot box was poised, Mr Mandela was asked which party he planned to vote for. 'I have been agonising over that question,' he replied, and went inside to mark his ballot.
Mr Mandela returned beaming. His was probably the most choreographed vote in history. Lifting the ballot paper above the box, Mr Mandela turned to face photographers then deposited the answer to his agonising question.
''An unforgettable occasion,' he called it. 'We are moving from an era of resistance, division, oppression, turmoil and conflict and starting a new era of hope, reconciliation and nation-building.'
'I sincerely hope that the mere casting of a vote . . . will give hope to all South Africans,' he said. Hope perhaps, but that vote yesterday gave officials at Ohlange a big headache. Hundreds of voters boycotted their local voting station and headed to the school, demanding to cast their ballots where Nelson Mandela did.