JOHANNESBURG >> Nelson Mandela went home in an ambulance on Sunday after nearly three months in a hospital that became the focus of a global outpouring of concern, but authorities said the health of the former South African president remained critical and sometimes unstable.
The return of the 95-year-old leader of the anti-apartheid movement to his home in an affluent neighborhood of Johannesburg allows his family to share time with him in a more intimate setting.
The office of South African President Jacob Zuma said Mandela will receive the same level of intensive care that he did in the hospital, administered by the same doctors.
Zuma’s office said the team of doctors treating Mandela, also known by his clan name Madiba, is "convinced that he will receive the same level of intensive care at his Houghton home that he received in Pretoria. His home has been reconfigured to allow him to receive intensive care there."
The statement also said: "If there are health conditions that warrant another admission to hospital in future, this will be done."
Mandela had been treated in a hospital in Pretoria, about 31 miles from Johannesburg, and the areas near the entrances to both the hospital and his home became makeshift shrines where people sang, prayed and left messages of support for a man who steered South Africa from white minority rule to democratic rule in a spirit of reconciliation that inspired the world.
Mandela was admitted to the hospital on June 8 for what the government described as a recurring lung infection. Legal papers filed by his family said he was on life support, and many South Africans feared the man widely viewed as the "father of the nation" was close to death.
One of Mandela’s daughters, Makaziwe Mandela, told The Associated Press as she left her father’s home that the family was "happy that he is home."
Another Mandela family member, grandson Mandla Mandela, said the former president’s return home was a "day of celebration."
Madiba’s discharge was "particularly heartening because it flies in the face of those who have been busy spreading lies that he was in a ‘vegetative state’ and just waiting for his support machines to be switched off," the South African Press Association quoted Mandla Mandela as saying.
Mandla Mandela, the oldest male Mandela heir, has feuded with family members over the burial site of the anti-apartheid leader’s three deceased children and it was unclear whether his remarks reflected the views of other relatives.
The African National Congress, South Africa’s ruling party, welcomed the hospital discharge of its former leader.
"We believe that receiving treatment at home will afford him continuous support from his family and loved ones," it said in a statement.
Zuma’s office said Mandela "vacillated between serious to critical and at times unstable" during his stay in hospital and that "despite the difficulties imposed by his various illnesses, he, as always, displays immense grace and fortitude."
It added: "Madiba has been treated by a large medical team from the military, academia, private sector and other public health spheres. We thank all the health professionals at the hospital for their dedication."
The government has released few details about Mandela’s condition, citing patient confidentiality and appealing for Mandela’s privacy and dignity to be respected. But rumors and unconfirmed reports about Mandela’s health have persisted on social media and other forums, fuelled in part by the family feud.
In a court case stemming from the dispute over burial sites, some members of Mandela’s extended family recently said in court documents that Mandela was being kept alive by a breathing machine and faces "impending death." That account was disputed by Zuma’s office, which denied Mandela was "vegetative" but acknowledged his condition was grave.
Mandela has been particularly vulnerable to respiratory problems since contracting tuberculosis during his 27-year imprisonment. The bulk of that period was spent on Robben Island, a prison off the coast of Cape Town where Mandela and other apartheid-era prisoners spent part of the time toiling in a limestone quarry.
There has been an outpouring of concern in South Africa and around the world for the transformative figure who led the tense shift from apartheid’s white minority rule to democracy two decades ago. Zuma urged South Africans to accept that Mandela had grown old and frail, saying all they could do was pray for him.
Mandela, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, is feted around the world as a towering figure of reconciliation. Despite being jailed for his prominent role in opposing white racist rule, Mandela was seemingly free of rancor on his release in 1990, becoming the unifying leader who led South Africa through a delicate transition to all-race elections that propelled him to the presidency four years later.
The United Nations has recognized Mandela’s birthday, July 18, as an international day to honor themes of activism, democracy and responsibility embodied by the former leader.