JOHANNESBURG - Former South African President Nelson Mandela went home from the hospital Friday after suffering an acute respiratory infection. Officials said the 92-year-old was joking with his wife and nurses, and handling the difficulties of old age "with the greatest of grace."
Surgeon-General Vejaynand Ramlakan told reporters that the anti-apartheid icon would now receive care at home after about 48 hours in Johannesburg's Milpark Hospital.
"It comes to us this afternoon with great joy to hear that he's been discharged," said grandson Mandla Mandela. Soon afterward, a convoy of security vehicles and a military ambulance carrying Mandela left the hospital, reaching hiss nearby home in minutes.
A dearth of updates since Mandela was admitted Wednesday afternoon had led to speculation and concern about his condition. Journalists have been camped outside the hospital and outside his Johannesburg home. Officials said Friday that Mandela's office has received more than 10,000 messages of support and well wishes, including from President Barack Obama.
Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, acting president while President Jacob Zuma is traveling abroad, said in retrospect communications should have been better.
"Madiba has received similar checkups in the past and it's never raised the same public panic it has now," Motlanthe said, explaining why officials had not been prepared.
Ramlakan, the surgeon general, said Mandela was in stable condition and had not been on a respirator.
Ramlakan said Mandela also had a respiratory infection eight years ago and contracted tuberculosis during the 27 years he spent in prison. He added Mandela takes medication for a chronic, unnamed condition, and needs help to walk.
"Despite all of this, his amazing positive attitude allows him to cope with the difficulties of old age with the greatest of grace," Ramlakan said.
Ramlakan would not say whether Mandela's most recent infection was in the upper or lower regions of his respiratory tract. A lower tract infection could have signaled more serious problems than an upper respiratory problem.
"We are at the end of the day talking about somebody who is 92 years old," Ramlakan said. "When you are 92 years old, what is routine is very different from when you are 19."
Motlanthe said Mandela was joking with his wife and nurses before being released Friday.
Mandela was jailed for 27 years for his fight against apartheid. He became South Africa's first black president in 1994 and stepped down after serving one term in 1999. He largely retired from public life in 2004.
The public has seen only glimpses of him recently, such as in November, when his office released photos of a private meeting between Mandela and members of the U.S. and South African soccer teams. The teams had just played a match in his honor.
Mandela also appeared at the closing ceremony of the World Cup in July, waving to the crowd as he was driven in a small golf cart alongside his wife, Graca Machel.
Mandela's first wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, had visited him in the hospital Thursday but refused to comment on his condition when she attended a court hearing Friday.
Madikizela-Mandela appeared relaxed at the court, which postponed the hearing for a man accused of homicide and drunk driving in a June car crash that killed Mandela's great-granddaughter Zenani, 13, as she was headed home after a World Cup concert.