JOHANNESBURG -- South Africans heaved a sigh of relief as their beloved anti-apartheid hero, Nelson Mandela, was sent home from the hospital.
The office of President Jacob Zuma said Mandela would continue to get medical treatment at his home in the upscale northern Johannesburg suburb of Houghton.
Before his release late Wednesday, Mandela, 94, had been hospitalized for almost three weeks after being flown from his rural home in Qunu, Eastern Cape, to a Pretoria private hospital on Dec. 8. He was seriously ill with a lung infection and later had surgery to remove gallstones.
South African authorities did not acknowledge the seriousness of Mandela’s illness until well after he was out of immediate danger, and misled the public and media about which hospital he was in.
Nelson Mandela was the country’s first black president after the end of apartheid, the system of institutionalized racial segregation that denied blacks a right to an equal education or decent jobs. He served one term from 1994 to 1999, when he retired from politics and focused on charitable work, particularly fighting the stigma of AIDS.
For many years, Mandela has played no part in the often cutthroat world of South African politics. He rarely receives visitors in Qunu.
Zuma’s spokesman, Mac Maharaj, issued a statement saying that Mandela was not yet fully recovered. He referred to him by his clan name, Madiba, by which he is affectionately known in South Africa.
“He will undergo home-based high care at his Houghton home until he recovers fully,” the statement said. “We thank the public and the media for the good wishes and for according Madiba and the family the necessary privacy.
“We request a continuation of the privacy consideration in order to allow for the best possible conditions for full recovery,” the statement said.