JOHANNESBURG - Nelson Mandela, 95, was discharged from hospital on Sunday while still in critical condition and was taken by ambulance to his Johannesburg home where he will receive intensive care, the office of South Africa's president said.
On a sunny but cold morning, an ambulance took the anti-apartheid leader home from the hospital in the capital, Pretoria, about 31 miles away. Mandela had been hospitalized for nearly three months, after being admitted on June 8 for what the government described as a recurring lung infection.
Mandela's condition "is at times unstable," said President Jacob Zuma's statement Sunday.
"His home has been reconfigured to allow him to receive intensive care there," the statement said. "The health care personnel providing care at his home are the very same who provided care to him in hospital. If there are health conditions that warrant another admission to hospital in future, this will be done."
The statement Sunday from Zuma's office said during his stay in hospital Mandela "vacillated between serious to critical and at times unstable" and that "despite the difficulties imposed by his various illnesses, he, as always, displays immense grace and fortitude."
Referring to Mandela by his clan name, the statement 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 a feud within the Mandela family.
In a court case stemming from a family 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 in a spirit of reconciliation.
Zuma urged South Africans to accept that Mandela had grown old and frail, saying all they could do was pray for him. During his hospitalization well-wishers delivered flowers and messages of support to the hospital where he was being treated, and prayer sessions were held around the country.
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 steered 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.