Mandela, 92, discharged from S. African hospital

JOHANNESBURG (AP) - Former South African President Nelson Mandela went home from thehospital Friday after suffering an acute respiratory infection.Officials said the 92-year-old was joking with his wife and nurses,and handling the difficulties of old age "with the greatest ofgrace."

Surgeon-General Vejaynand Ramlakan told reporters that theanti-apartheid icon would now receive care at home after about 48hours in Johannesburg's Milpark Hospital.

"It comes to us this afternoon with great joy to hear that he'sbeen discharged," said grandson Mandla Mandela. Soon afterward, aconvoy of security vehicles and a military ambulance carryingMandela left the hospital, reaching hiss nearby home inminutes.

A dearth of updates since Mandela was admitted Wednesdayafternoon had led to speculation and concern about his condition.Journalists have been camped outside the hospital and outside hisJohannesburg home. Officials said Friday that Mandela's office hasreceived more than 10,000 messages of support and well wishes,including from President Barack Obama.

Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, acting president whilePresident Jacob Zuma is traveling abroad, said in retrospectcommunications should have been better.

"Madiba has received similar checkups in the past and it's neverraised the same public panic it has now," Motlanthe said,explaining why officials had not been prepared.

Ramlakan, the surgeon general, said Mandela was in stablecondition and had not been on a respirator.

Ramlakan said Mandela also had a respiratory infection eightyears ago and contracted tuberculosis during the 27 years he spentin prison. He added Mandela takes medication for a chronic, unnamedcondition, and needs help to walk.

"Despite all of this, his amazing positive attitude allows himto cope with the difficulties of old age with the greatest ofgrace," Ramlakan said.

Ramlakan would not say whether Mandela's most recent infectionwas in the upper or lower regions of his respiratory tract. A lowertract infection could have signaled more serious problems than anupper respiratory problem.

"We are at the end of the day talking about somebody who is 92years old," Ramlakan said. "When you are 92 years old, what isroutine is very different from when you are 19."

Motlanthe said Mandela was joking with his wife and nursesbefore being released Friday.

Mandela was jailed for 27 years for his fight against apartheid.He became South Africa's first black president in 1994 and steppeddown after serving one term in 1999. He largely retired from publiclife in 2004.

The public has seen only glimpses of him recently, such as inNovember, when his office released photos of a private meetingbetween Mandela and members of the U.S. and South African soccerteams. The teams had just played a match in his honor.

Mandela also appeared at the closing ceremony of the World Cupin July, waving to the crowd as he was driven in a small golf cartalongside his wife, Graca Machel.

Mandela's first wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, had visited himin the hospital Thursday but refused to comment on his conditionwhen she attended a court hearing Friday.

Madikizela-Mandela appeared relaxed at the court, whichpostponed the hearing for a man accused of homicide and drunkdriving in a June car crash that killed Mandela'sgreat-granddaughter Zenani, 13, as she was headed home after aWorld Cup concert.