South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma today said that Nelson Mandela’s release from the hospital to go home indicates “progress” – a remark in contrast with gloomy pronouncements by some local media, that the elderly icon of freedom was going home “to see out his final days.”
Mr. Zuma told journalists in the capital Pretoria that after three months in intensive care, the release allowing the revered former president to live in the upmarket Johannesburg suburb of Houghton showed he was getting better.
"I think we feel very good that he could leave hospital which indicates the progress he has made," Zuma said. "He is old and not well but we are very happy that he's gone home, that he's still with us."
For several months, as the local and international media staked out Mandela's hospital as he suffered a chronic lung infection, there has been a jockeying for how to define his situation.
But the Mandela family that has helped arrange his departure from the hospital has been fairly united. They've called this new step a progressive one, saying his arrival home is natural and intended to allow him to enjoy his time. It's not a preparation for death, the family said.
Mandela’s oldest grandson Mandla said his release from the hospital was final proof that the apocalyptic reports of his imminent demise were false.
“His discharge is particularly heartening because it flies in the face of those who have been busy spreading lies that he was in a ‘vegetative state’ and just waiting for his support machines to be switched off, in effect declaring him dead while he was fully alive and showing his fighting spirit that has defined him over the many years of his life,” he said in a statement.
Zuma's comments today were at odds with the statement issued by his office on Sunday, which said that the 95-year-old’s condition remained “critical and is at times unstable,” but that he would receive the same level of intensive care at home in Johannesburg as he had at the hospital in Pretoria.
Zuma added that Mandela could be readmitted to the hospital any time it became necessary.
A report in South Africa’s City Press on Sunday took a gloomy line and quoted a source close to the family as saying that they and the doctors had decided “it is now time for Mandela to be moved home to see out his final days."
Yet Zuma’s more upbeat assessment this week jives with what members of his family and some other analysts are suggesting – that the battle underway by one of the world’s most adored statesman is not over just yet.
One source in the family said there was “no question” of switching off the ventilator on which Mandela has come to depend. His physicians say he is not suffering, and is still responding to those around him.
Mandela has not been speaking with family and friends in the hospital nor sharing meals with them, though one of his daughters hoped this might be more possible now that he is at home. Mandela is able to sit up in a chair, watch television, and nod and smile at his relatives and friends.
Mandela’s daughter Zindzi also dismissed claims he had been sent home to die. “When he’s in hospital for more than a month or so there is this hysteria that this must be the end,” she said. “Then when he is sent home, the media and public are not satisfied, they think he must be sent home to die. Please make your mind up people.”
Zindzi is Mandela’s daughter with his second wife Winnie. In an interview with Britain's ITV News she said she felt that a return by the elder statesman to an environment with familiar voices, full of the smells of his favorite dishes wafting up from the kitchen, would be "enriching for his soul."
"We'll be able to sit around the dinner table with him once more and have lunch...supper...and just enjoy each other's space not necessarily in a room that's full of equipment," she added.