JOHANNESBURG Former South African President Nelson Mandela's recovery is 'on track' at his home in Johannesburg, the government said on Wednesday in its first statement since the anti-apartheid hero was released from hospital a week ago.
Mandela, 94, who has been in frail health for several years, spent nearly three weeks in a Pretoria hospital in December for treatment of a lung infection and surgery to remove gallstones, his longest stay for medical care since his release from prison in 1990.
"Madiba's recovery continues on track," presidency spokesman Mac Maharaj said referring to Mandela by his clan name.
"We are now in the phase where if we do not hear from his doctors, we assume he is all right," he said, without giving details on Mandela's condition.
Mandela has been receiving what the government calls "home-based high care" at his residence in an upscale Johannesburg neighbourhood.
Mandela became South Africa's first black president after the first all-race elections in 1994, serving a five-year term.
He has been mostly absent from the political scene for the past several years due to poor health, while questions have been raised as to whether his ruling African National Congress (ANC) has lost the moral compass he left behind.
Under such leaders as Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo, the ANC gained a stellar global reputation. Once the yoke of apartheid was thrown off, it began ruling South Africa in a blaze of goodwill from world leaders who viewed it as a beacon for a troubled continent and world.
Close to two decades later, this image has dimmed as critics inside and outside the country, and in the movement itself, accuse ANC leaders of indulging in the spoils of office, squandering mineral resources and engaging in power struggles.
Mandela's "Rainbow Nation" of reconciliation has come under strain under President Jacob Zuma, a Zulu traditionalist with a history of racially charged comments, including a statement in December where he reportedly said dog ownership was for whites and not part of African culture.
Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mandela has a history of lung problems dating back to when he contracted tuberculosis as a political prisoner. He spent 27 years in prison, including 18 years on the windswept Robben Island off Cape Town.
Mandela was also admitted to hospital in February because of abdominal pain but released the following day after a keyhole examination showed there was nothing seriously wrong with him.
He has spent most of his time since then in another home in Qunu, his ancestral village in the impoverished Eastern Cape province.
His poor health has prevented him from making public appearances in the past two years, although he has continued to receive high-profile visitors, including former U.S. President Bill Clinton.
(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Janet Lawrence)