But when Mandela was welcomed with a bagpipe band, it seemed clear this was no social call. He held a private chat with Muammar Gadhafi and presented the Colonel with the Order of Good Hope, South Africa's most prestigious medal.
Suspicions were aroused since the South African leader just came from Britain, and is always professing his desire to mediate in the Lockerbie stalemate ó the argument over whether the Libyan suspects should be tried in Scotland or a neutral country.
Says TIMEís South Africa correspondent Peter Hawthorne: "Itís almost certain that privately Mandela was giving Gadhafi the benefit of his experiences at the Commonwealth meeting."
Bearing in mind the Colonel's legendary stubbornness, however, his chest may be covered in South African baubles by the time any agreement is reached.