Nelson Mandela. File photo: Reuters

Mthatha - Nelson Mandela is healing well and is “stronger than before” as he recovers after nearly three weeks of hospital treatment, his grandson told AFP on Thursday.

The former South African president “is healed and is stronger than before,” according to his eldest grandchild Mandla Mandela.

The upbeat report comes a week after the nonagenarian was discharged from hospital, where he received treatment for a recurrent lung infection and had surgery to extract gallstones.

Mandla Ä a traditional chief and member of parliament Ä

thanked the country for their prayers during what had been Mandela's longest stay in hospital since being released from prison in 1990.

“As the family of Mandela we thank... the people of South Africa as a whole who prayed for the old man whilst he was sick.”

Messages of support and prayers for the recovery of the anti-apartheid hero, affectionately known by his clan name Madiba, poured in as he lay in hospital for much of December.

“I really appreciate these prayers because my grandpa is healed and is stronger than before,” Mandla, who is the head of the Mandela family clan, said in a telephone interview.

Earlier on Thursday President Jacob Zuma's spokesman Mac Maharaj said doctors had not updated the presidency on Mandela's health, but that no news was good news.

“Madiba is continuing to progress,” Maharaj told AFP. “In the absence of a statement, please conclude that it's all moving reasonably well.”

Mandela was flown to a Pretoria hospital on December 8 from his rural village home in Qunu, south of the country.

He was discharged to his Johannesburg home a day after Christmas to receive “home-based high care” until he makes a full recovery.

Since he went home medics said “he was improving,” said Maharaj.

“The doctors are happy, there's no crisis, they've taken him out of hospital, they've taken him home.”

On Friday, his daughter Zenani Mandela-Dlamini told AFP that he is “doing great” and enjoying time with his family at his Johannesburg home.

After serving one term as president, Mandela stepped away from politics, but he still bestrides the life of the nation which he dragged kicking and screaming toward democracy.

In contrast to his public stature Mandela the man has grown increasingly frail in recent years, choosing to retire to his home village.

South Africa's first black president after the country's first all-race elections in 1994, Mandela has a long history of lung problems, dating back to the time when he was an apartheid political prisoner on Robben Island.

While in jail he contracted tuberculosis Ä a disease which killed his father.

In January 2011 he was hospitalised for two nights for an acute respiratory infection.

Mandela was last seen in public in 2010, clad in a scarf during the closing ceremony of the FIFA World Cup, when he was wheeled into the Johannesburg stadium in a golf cart.

He stepped down from office in 1999 and took up a new role as a leading campaigner against AIDS before finally retiring from public life in 2004. - Sapa-AFP