The sentence handed down to fallen South African athlete Oscar Pistorius for the shooting death of his girlfriend was always going to be controversial. Elements of race, sexual inequality, crimes against women and concern for the rule of law ensured that whatever the judge said would be seen by some as either too light, to others, not enough. For the victims' family, the five-year prison term was justice done. But the case involved more than crime, a famous man, suspense and emotion: it was also about the new South Africa. Global interest in the trial was guaranteed by the case's Hollywoodesque elements. Pistorius overcame a disability to become a champion sprinter, the futuristic carbon-fibre prosthetics he used earning him the nickname "Blade runner". His girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, was a model and a law graduate; together, they made a glamorous and wealthy couple. Court arguments about whether the case was one of domestic violence or the shooting of an intruder and if the charge should be murder or culpable homicide were peppered with the athlete's emotional breakdowns - they are likely to be the stuff of a future television drama or movie blockbuster. But it is the backdrop of South Africa, which, two decades after the end of apartheid, is still struggling with race, democracy, corruption and social issues, that made the case so significant. Judge Thokozile Masipa, a black woman imprisoned under apartheid, was a symbol of changed times. With memories of Nelson Mandela, the anti-apartheid hero and first president who died less than a year ago still fresh, her every word was laced with meaning. Her ruling on Tuesday was balanced: "Righteous anger should not cloud judgment," she said. This was Mandela's philosophy of reconciliation and mercy. Intense international media scrutiny of the trial always meant South Africa would be judged by the outcome. Masipa has done the nation proud. Debate will continue over Pistorius' sentence, but justice has been served and South Africa has shown the world it is on the right path.