(PRETORIA, South Africa) — South Africa awoke Saturday morning to the unexpected and ultimately false news that iconic leader Nelson Mandela had been discharged from the hospital in Pretoria and returned to his home in a wealthy suburb of Johannesburg.
The news stunned the country and threw the international media into a frenzy, with a small army of media outlets scrambling to his home to confirm the news and perhaps catch a glimpse of the ailing 95-year-old Mandela, who has been hospitalized since June 8 for a lung infection.
However, the early Saturday morning reports turned out to be a false alarm and prompted South Africa President Jacob Zuma to issue a statement Saturday, denying the media reports and assuring the public Mandela is still hospitalized and responding well to treatment.
A Mandela relative had apparently misunderstood her communication with one of Mandela’s doctors and erroneously believed he had been released.
The relative informed other family members, who, in turn, relayed the faulty information to the media.
In his Saturday statement, Zuma reiterated that Mandela’s condition sometimes becomes unstable but that he remains resilient and is being made comfortable.
There is still lingering confusion about when or if Mandela will be released, but his family has said in recent months he would prefer to die at home rather than in the hospital.
Because of the false news reports and increased speculation about a possible release, activity buzzed outside Mandela’s hospital in Pretoria, where international media have been camped out since he was admitted 85 days ago.
Several media outlets are now lined up outside of Mandela’s home in Johannesburg, where a few family members were spotted Saturday but nothing that suggested his arrival there is imminent.
Mandela, who turned 95 in July, remains an almost mythical figure in South Africa.
After his anti-apartheid efforts landed him in jail for 27 years, he was released in February 1990 and four years later was elected the country’s first black president and the first one elected by a full, non-racial democracy after the demise of apartheid.
He is widely considered the father of modern South Africa and one of the great towering political figures of the 20th century.
The admiration for Mandela is clear on the gates outside the hospital, which for several weeks have been adorned with posters, pictures and flowers in his honor.
The public fanfare that ensued shortly after Mandela went into the hospital earlier this summer has largely faded, with the country now in the midst of a long goodbye for its iconic leader.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Kareem Khadder, CNN
Euan McKirdy and Marilia Brocchetto, CNN
Evan McKirdy, Tim Hume and James Masters, CNN