JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – South Africans heaved a sigh of relief after their beloved 92-year-old former president, Nelson Mandela, was discharged from a hospital after being treated for a respiratory infection and returned home Friday.
Mandela, who served as the country’s first democratically elected president from 1994-1999, was driven home about lunchtime in a military ambulance. Doctors at Milpark Hospital, near Mandela’s home in Houghton, earlier had announced he had suffered an acute respiratory infection, but was recovering well.
News of the acute illness contradicted earlier reports from the Nelson Mandela Foundation and African National Congress that nothing serious was wrong with Mandela.
Mandela, who became president after spending 27 years in prison for anti-apartheid activism, is rarely seen in public because of his age and frailty, but has enormous stature, loved by South Africans of all races. His health is regarded almost as public property.
The foundation announced Wednesday he was having routine tests and then declined to make any further statements Thursday, fueling a day of wild rumors including that the former president was dying or dead – the second whirl of speculation within a few weeks.
Acting President Kgalema Motlanthe, who visited Mandela on Friday, said Mandela received more than 10,000 messages from well-wishers while he was in the hospital.