JOHANNESBURG, Jan 28 – Doctors discharged Nelson Mandela from a hospital Friday where he was treated for a respiratory condition, as officials said the ex-South African president had been laughing and joking with visitors.
"He has been discharged," said Vejaynand Ramlakan, one of the military doctors assigned to care for the icon of the anti-apartheid movement who is now aged 92.
An ambulance was later seen arriving at Mandela\’s home in Houghton in Johannesburg after his family had made arrangements for him to return there.
"To us he is stable, but will be subject to intense monitoring," Ramlaken added.
Speaking at the same press conference at the Milpark hospital in Johannesburg, vice president Kgalema Motlanthe said Mandela was well and is receiving the best possible care.
"Madiba is well," Motlanthe said, using Mandela\’s clan name, adding that the anti-apartheid hero was "in good spirits and laughing and joking with us."
Motlanthe had earlier said that Mandela\’s hospital stay had been caused by long-term respiratory problems which were being treated by specialists.
"Medically there is no need to panic. Dr Mandela suffers from ailment common to people of his age, and conditions that have developed over years," said Motlanthe.
"He has suffered from tuberculosis whilst on Robben Island and has had previous respiratory infections," he added, referring to the notorious prison where Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years in jail during the apartheid struggle.
A source close to Mandela told AFP that the nation\’s first black president was "very sick" but his condition was "not life threatening" and he could be released from medical care as early as Friday.
Mandela was suffering from a respiratory condition, believed to be bronchitis, and put on a ventilator in the early hours of Thursday after he had difficulty breathing and speaking, The Times newspaper reported on Friday.
The Nobel peace laureate\’s condition has gripped the nation.
Media had surrounded the hospital where tight security has seen police checking all visitors\’ cars to ensure no journalists were hiding in the boot.
A nearby school was decorated with messages of support.
"All we want is just the best for him and for him to recover and go home and be with his family," said Sibongile Dlamini, a 17-year-old, grade 12 pupil, told AFP. "South Africa still needs him."
Keneilwe Mathamela, 15, said: "We can\’t concentrate a lot. We\’re always looking outside to see what\’s happening. We just want him to come back."
On Thursday, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who described Mandela as frail after meeting him last week, said Madiba remained in "amazing" condition for his age, but did not comment specifically on his hospitalisation.
"What more do we want from him? We want him to remain forever, but you know… anything can happen," Tutu, a leading figure during the anti-apartheid struggle, said.
The ruling African National Congress party earlier urged people to refrain from speculation and the White House said that President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle\’s thoughts were with Mandela.
The Nelson Mandela Foundation, established to continue his charitable work after he withdrew from public life in 2004, said Wednesday that Madiba was undergoing "routine tests." It has made no further comment.
Mandela emerged from prison in 1990 to lead the transition to democracy.
After being elected as South African president in 1994, he defied the threat of civil war to lead a process of reconciliation in a country long divided against itself.
His public appearances have become increasingly rare since retirement in 2004, the last such outing being at the closing ceremony of the 2010 FIFA World Cup in Johannesburg in July.