Oh, Mandela was fully aware that his country would have been set ablaze if he did not play both sides. I admit, it was well played. But he still showed his true colors throughout his political career.
Oliver Tambo was the one who set policy for the ANC, was responsible for organizing the respective guerrilla groups of Umkhonto we Sizwe (the armed wing of the ANC) and authorizedall "military" oprations carried out by them before Nelson Mandela was made president of the ANC in 1994, by which time all aggression between Umkhonto we Sizwe and the South African Defense force had ceased. Blaming Mandela for policies of agression against whites when he had had no say in the conduct of the guerilla warfare waged is ridiculous.
While Mandela was still in prison on Robin Island, FW de Klerk was already conducting negotiations with him knowing full well that the ANC would win the inevitable free elections. It was also well accepted that Mandela would become president of the ANC and therefore the country's first black leader. In the many communiques between Mandela and de Klerk, it was clear de Klerk knew Mandela (who had become a moderate in his latter years of incarceration) was South Africa's only hope in preventing complete Africanization, the adoption of communism and wholesale reprisals against whites and enemies of the ANC (IFP is a good example) Mandela warned de Klerk that, although he could promise to do everything in his power to bring peace and stability to South Africa, he could not guarantee controling those elements within the ANC who were die-hard Africanists, determined to continue reprisals and even try to force whites from out of the country which proved to be true.
Saying Nelson Mandela had no choice but to reconcile relations between black and white is spitefully denying him of the credit he rightfully deserves for preventing large scale bloodshed and bringing peace to the country. In order for Mandela to bring peace he had to face tough adversaries like Thabo Mbeki who was certain that Mandelas policy of reconcilliation would not have the full support of the black population and therefore cause the ANC to lose credibility amongst its supporters. There were also those non-ANC hardliners from the SACP, AZAPO and the PAC who vehemently opposed Mandela, causing the very real threat of a splintered black political front which may well have culminated in an all out civil war. Then there was also the extremely delicate subject of approaching and dealing with the ANC's once mortal enemy, the Inkatha Freedom Party. After over a decade of animosity and bloodshed between the IFP and the ANC supported UDF, Mandela not only forgave the IFP's white puppet leader Buthelezi, but supported the IDF in its insistence to be the sole political representative of Zululand, allowing the Zululand "government" at Ulundi to remain while having to make few compromises.
Mandela's dogged determination, keen political understanding and grasp of the white population's precarious position, the need for a democratic government still acknowledging the National Party (the ones responsible for apartheid and black suffering in the first place) as a legitimate party, with a right to seats in parliament speaks volumes about how wise and forgiving the man was. As you youself admitted, he did a good job, although I would go further and state that what he achieved was incredible - if I believed in miracles I would say it was almost miraculous. Particularly when one takes into account what Mandela inherited and the seemingly insurmountable odds he had to overcome when he was handed the reigns to a country which was in desperate need of a complete social, political, and psychological overhaul.
Give credit where it's due. In my opinion he is the greatest politician and humanitarian of our time and only a biased, ignorant person would suggest he didn't deserve a Peace Prize. Count your lucky stars we got him instead of one of the other potential hardliners who could have made Mugabe seem tame.