JOHANNESBURG - Nelson Mandela was discharged from the hospital on Sunday while still in critical condition and was driven in an ambulance to his Johannesburg home which has been set up to provide intensive care, South Africa's presidency said.
On a sunny but cold morning, an ambulance took the anti-apartheid leader home from the hospital in the capital, Pretoria, where he had been since June 8 for what the government has described as a recurring lung infection.
President Jacob Zuma said in a statement Sunday that Mandela's condition "is at times unstable."
"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 continued: "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."
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.
The government has released few details about Mandela's condition, citing patient confidentiality. 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 prisoners spent part of the time toiling in a limestone quarry.
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.