A woman walks past a mural depicting portraits of former South African President Nelson Mandela in Soweto, South Africa, Dec. 11, 2012 (Photo: AP)
South Africa's anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela was recovering at his Johannesburg home Thursday, convalescing and receiving further care after a nearly three-week hospital stay, officials said.
The revered 94-year-old had been admitted to a Pretoria hospital on December 8, undergoing treatment for a lung infection and gallstones in the latest health scare for South Africa's first black president.
Though he was discharged on Wednesday, doctors for now want him to stay in Johannesburg, near the country's top medical facilities, said a presidential spokesman.
It was unclear if and when Mandela would return to his ancestral home in Qunu in the Eastern Cape.
"Doctors yesterday came to the conclusion that he made sufficient progress to be discharged," presidential spokesman and former Mandela prison mate Mac Maharaj told local television channel eNCA.
Mandela is now receiving "home-based care" at his residence in the posh Johannesburg suburb of Houghton.
"When Madiba goes, in which period, is a matter that is entirely depending on his own wishes. Whatever he wishes we will do," said Maharaj.
"But right now the doctors have considered it necessary and good that he should be in Houghton so that he's closed to all the facilities where they can give him high care."
His release from hospital spells relief for many South Africans, who had feared for the nonagenarian's health.
"Yes he is old, but nobody really wants to lose him," said Cianda, a Johannesburg resident.
"For me it is quite a relief because I'm happy that he's back home, and he's going to be home to see the New Year. Not in hospital."
Mandela had spent Christmas in a Pretoria facility, part of his longest hospital stay since coming out of prison in 1990.
The Nobel Peace laureate was visited on Christmas Day by his wife Graca Machal and other family members along with President Jacob Zuma, who said Mandela was "looking much better".
Mandela, once a spry boxer who stayed fit during his long years behind bars by doing calisthenics in his cell, has grown increasingly frail in recent years.
He has rarely been seen since retiring from public life in 2004.
Messages of support and prayers for the recovery of the man affectionately known as Madiba, his clan name, have been pouring in from all over the country.
While many South Africans have resigned themselves to the idea of life without their most respected citizen, he remains highly esteemed as the father of the nation who fought with the African National Congress against apartheid rule.
"Everyone has been a little bit worried about him, but quite relieved that he's back home," said Brian De Luca, also of Johannesburg.
"It's good that he's still healthy and he's back at home."