Former South African president Nelson Mandela and his wife, Graca Machel, pictured in 2011. (Elmond Jiyane-GCIS/Associated Press)

South Africa's presidency says Nelson Mandela, the anti-apartheid icon and former president, has been released from the hospital after spending most of December there.

The 94-year-old had been in the hospital since Dec. 8. He was diagnosed with a lung infection and also had a procedure to remove gallstones.

In recent days, officials have said Mandela is improving, but doctors have taken extraordinary care with his health because of his age.

Presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj says Mandela will receive more medical care at his Johannesburg home until he fully recovers.

Maharaj requested that the public respect Mandela's privacy at this time.

On Christmas Day, President Jacob Zuma declared that Nelson Mandela looked "much better" after medical treatment and doctors are pleased with his progress.

"We found him in good spirits," Zuma said in a statement. "He shouted my clan name, Nxamalala, as I walked into the ward! He was happy to have visitors on this special day and is looking much better. The doctors are happy with the progress that he is making."

Across the country, worshippers offered prayers for Mandela during their Christmas Mass.