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Nelson Mandela Returns Home to Convalesce

The ambulance carrying former South African President Nelson Mandela leaves Milpark hospital in Johannesburg, South Africa, Jan 28, 2011
The ambulance carrying former South African President Nelson Mandela leaves Milpark hospital in Johannesburg, South Africa, Jan 28, 2011
Delia Robertson

Nelson Mandela returned home from the hospital in an ambulance to convalesce after being discharged earlier. At a media briefing which included government and family representatives, South African Surgeon General Vejay Ramlakan said his recuperation will be closely monitored.

“He recently developed an acute respiratory infection, for which he received treatment and has responded very well,” the surgeon said. “He is stable, but will be monitored closely.”

The 92-year-old former president’s health is routinely closely monitored and managed by a team of specialists from both the private sector and the South African Military Health Services. He has regular check-ups that include a battery of tests suitable for a man of his years and medical history.

Mr. Mandela was hospitalized two days ago after contracting an acute respiratory infection. The illness more or less came at the same time as he would be expected to have his annual health check-up.

However after an initial statement from the Nelson Mandela Foundation that he had been admitted to the hospital for routine tests, was in no danger and in good spirits, speculation that he was critically ill or worse began to spin out of control fueled by rumors and some media reports.

The foundation and family members maintained silence and a single statement was issued by South African President Jacob Zuma but there was concern across the country about the condition of the Nobel Peace Prize winner. Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe said at the Johannesburg media briefing the matter had been poorly handled.

“Firstly let me say that with the wisdom of hindsight indeed we could have handled this matter differently,” said Motlanthe.

Mr. Motlanthe, who is acting president in the absence of President Jacob Zuma, assured the country the government has learned from this experience and will be more forthcoming in future about Mr. Mandela’s health situation.

Mr. Motlanthe said that Mr. Mandela is relaxed and enjoying the company of his family and visitors.

“He is in good spirits, he was joking with us and - you know - teasing mam Graҫa [Machel, Mandela’s wife] and mam Winnie [Madikizela-Mandela] and the sister [supervisory nurse] in charge of the ward, yeah,” Motlanthe said.

Mandla Mandela, Mr. Mandela’s grandson and the current leader of his clan, said his family will be delighted to have him home again.

“I think as a family we have always enjoyed having my grandfather amongst us,” Mandela said. “And it comes to us this afternoon with great joy to hear that he has been discharged and the necessary arrangements of taking him home to his house in Houghton will be made and we will continue to be with him.”

Surgeon General Ramlakan assured South Africans that medically, Mr. Mandela is amazing for his age.

“So I think there is no need to panic, or to try to see more than what we are saying,” the surgeon general said. “For a 92-year-old, he surprises us on a daily basis with his powers of recovery.”

Nelson Mandela's last public appearance was in July, when he appeared at the closing ceremony of the World Cup, waving to the crowd.

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