South Africa's first black president was discharged from One Military hospital in the capital, Pretoria, on Sunday and travelled in a VIP police convoy to his house in the Johannesburg suburb of Houghton.
He had stayed overnight for minor diagnostic surgery to determine the cause of an abdominal complaint, officials said. He is now in good spirits and resting at his home, they added, ensuring a collective gasp of relief from millions of well-wishers.
Mac Maharaj, the presidential spokesman, said Mandela had undergone a laparoscopy, a procedure that involves surgeons making an incision in the belly to insert a thin, lighted tube with a tiny camera to study abdominal organs.
"The doctors have decided to send him home as the diagnostic procedure he underwent did not indicate anything seriously wrong with him," Maharaj added.
Mandela, who spent 27 years on Robben Island and in other prisons for resisting white minority rule, was elected president in 1994. The Nobel peace laureate is officially retired and last appeared in public in July 2010.
Inevitably, the nonagenarian's wellbeing is an almost constant source of speculation and, often, misinformation. When he was previously admitted to hospital, just over a year ago, it was variously claimed that he had suffered a collapsed lung, was in a coma or already dead; he was in fact treated for an acute respiratory infection.
In an interview on South Africa's eNews channel on Sunday, Maharaj, also a former Robben Island inmate, described Mandela as a strong character who liked to keep fit and remained positive even when facing the prospect of the death penalty in 1964.
Maharaj highlighted the longevity of a tough generation of struggle veterans such as Rebecca Kotane, who turned 100 earlier this month, despite South Africa's average life expectancy being 54.5 according to the World Health Organisation.
"They are a pain in my neck," joked Maharaj, a mere 76.
Ahmed Kathrada, a close friend of Mandela and fellow Robben Island survivor, and Richard Maponya, who defied apartheid to build a business empire in Soweto, are still active in public life at 82 and 85 respectively. Albertina Sisulu, born three months after Mandela and widow of his great friend and comrade Walter, died last year aged 92.
Earlier in the day, the defence minister, Lindiwe Sisulu, said Mandela had an "investigative laparoscopy" and denied reports he had undergone surgery for a hernia.
"It wasn't the surgery that has been out there in the media at all," Sisulu said. "The reason why we took him to hospital is because he did have an ongoing discomfort and when you attend to someone you want to improve the condition of that person.
"The only way that we could finally get to the bottom of this was by taking him to hospital and having a number of tests to find out if what was prescribed was working and whether we could do anything better."
Mandela looks less fragile than most recently published photos suggest, she added. "He looks very handsome, very healthy. He's as fine as can be at his age."
President Jacob Zuma also released a statement saying that Mandela was "surrounded by his family and is relaxed and comfortable".
He added: "The doctors are happy with the progress he is making. We thank all South Africans for their love and support of Madiba. We also thank all for affording Madiba [Mandela's clan name] and his family privacy and dignity.
"The doctors have assured us that there is nothing to worry about and that Madiba is in good health."
The media generally praised the government for handling the episode better than the debacle of Mandela's hospitalisation in January last year. On that occasion, the government and the Nelson Mandela Foundation kept journalists largely in the dark about his treatment, initially described as routine testing.
On Sunday, South Africa's City Press newspaper ran a front-page headline: "Newsflash: Madiba: Don't panic; World on tenterhooks as Mandela is admitted to hospital."
The paper named and shamed tweeters who spread word that Mandela had died with messages such as: "Omg biggest news ever Nelson Mandela is dead" and "RIP Nelson Mandela a great man, an inspiration, will be sorely missed."
Article: David Smith - The Guardian