JOHANNESBURG (AFP) – Former South Africa president Nelson Mandela returned home Friday after two days of treatment for breathing difficulties where he resolutely laughed and joked with visitors.
The country's surgeon general told reporters that the anti-apartheid hero had suffered an acute respiratory infection but was now sufficiently well to be treated at home, ending considerable concern about his health.
"He has been discharged," said Vejaynand Ramlakan, who leads the team of military doctors assigned to care for the former resistance leader who left prison in 1990 and became the country's first black president four years later.
"Dr Mandela is in high spirits. For a 92-year-old he surprises us on a daily basis with his powers of recovery."
Mandela's condition was stable but he would be subject to close monitoring by medical specialists at home, Ramlakan said.
A security official from a 20-vehicle convoy confirmed that the Nobel peace laureate travelled back to his house in Houghton in Johannesburg, in the second of two ambulances.
|AFP - An ambulance believed to be carrying former South African president Nelson Mandela leaves the Millpark hospital in Johannesburg.|
Scores of neighbours and well-wishers gathered for his arrival but failed to catch a glimpse of the country's revered elder statesman.
"Our daddy is back," said Lina Phalane, a 67-year-old maid who works in the same street. "Please God, give him some more days to live with us," she said.
Speaking at a joint press conference at Milpark hospital in Johannesburg, alongside surgeon general Ramlakan, one of Mandela's grandsons spoke of the family's relief.
"We enjoy having our grandfather around, this afternoon it came as a joy that he was to be discharged," said Mandla Mandela.
Vice President Kgalema Motlanthe said the ex-South African president was well and had been laughing and joking with visitors.
"We should remain calm and continue with our prayers that Madiba (Mandela's clan name) will be with us to celebrate his 93rd birthday... and beyond," he said, conceding that the decision to impose a media blackout since Wednesday might have been flawed.
"With the wisdom of hindsight we could have handled the matter differently," he said, given that Mandela is seen as "not only a South African icon but an icon of the entire world."
He said that once doctors had decided on hospitalisation "we should indeed... communicate with you (the media)."
"We will do that," he added, alluding to how a future health scare would be handled.
Mandela's condition has gripped the nation, with media surrounding the hospital amid tight security. Police checked all visitors' cars to ensure no journalists were hiding in the boot.
A nearby school was decorated with messages of support.
"All we want is just the best for him and for him to recover and go home and be with his family," said Sibongile Dlamini, a 17-year-old, grade 12 pupil.
In Mandela's home village of Qunu, 870 kilometres (540 miles) south of Johannesburg, locals huddled around television screens to hear the latest news.
"It is such a relief to hear that he is out of hospital now," said Thobile Mjekula, 79, who had met Madiba several times.
"The old man has been through a lot, we only wish that he recovers so that the country can enjoy the honour of having him around," said Mjekula.
The Nelson Mandela Foundation, established to continue his charitable work after he withdrew from public life in 2004, said Wednesday that Madiba was undergoing "routine tests" but made no further comment.
But speculation had increased Thursday as a string of high-profile figures visited the Milpark hospital to visit him.
As well members of his family, visitors included Justice Minister Jeff Radebe, a prominent ANC leader; and Albertina Sisulu, widow of Mandela's fellow freedom fighter, Walter Sisulu.
Mandela emerged from incarceration 21 years ago and went on to lead the country's transition from white minority rule to democracy.
After being elected as president in 1994, he defied the threat of civil war to lead a process of reconciliation in a country long divided against itself.
His public appearances have become increasingly rare since retirement in 2004, the last such outing being at the closing ceremony of the 2010 FIFA World Cup in Johannesburg in July.