“The doctors have decided to send him home as the diagnostic procedure he underwent did not indicate anything seriously wrong with him,” President Jacob Zuma’s office said in a statement.
His departure from Pretoria’s “1 Military” hospital in a multi-vehicle motorcade marks the end of an anxious 24-hour wait for South Africa’s 50 million people, after Mandela was admitted on Saturday morning with “long-standing abdominal pain”.
The government insisted throughout there was nothing to panic about.
Defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu said Mandela had had “investigative laparoscopy” – a tiny camera inserted into the abdomen – 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 told a media briefing in Cape Town. “He’s fine. He’s as fine as can be at his age – and handsome.”
Even though he stepped down at the end of his first term in office in 1999, South Africa’s first black president continues to occupy a central position in the psyche of a country ruled by the 10 percent white minority until all-race elections in 1994.
He has been in poor health since he was hospitalised a year ago with respiratory problems, and this latest scare hammered home to many that Mandela, who was incarcerated for 27 years by the apartheid government, may not live for much longer.
“We wish him well,” said Soweto resident Ronny Zondi. “But understanding his age, we’ve got to accept he might not be with us for long. We wish that God could keep him longer.”
Mandela’s last public appearance was in July 2010 at the final of the World Cup in Johannesburg’s Soccer City stadium. He now divides his time between his home in Johannesburg’s northern suburbs and his ancestral village of Qunu in the Eastern Cape.
The government’s public comments on his hospitalisation have been markedly more open than a year ago.
Then, Zuma’s office took hours to confirm media reports of a sudden decline in Mandela’s health, leading to a scrum of local and international reporters outside Johannesburg’s Milpark hospital.