Mama Winnie's memorial service underway at Orlando Stadium

  • Mama Winnie's memorial service underway at Orlando Stadium

Mama Winnie's memorial service underway at Orlando Stadium

Mourners at the Orlando stadium in Soweto near Johannesburg sang and danced to celebrate the life of their heroine.

LEADING THE STRUGGLE-In this April 5, 1986 file photo Winnie Mandela, carries the coffin of activist William Kotoyi at his funeral in Brandfort, South Africa.

Several thousand mourners have gathered at a stadium in Soweto for a memorial service for South Africa's anti-apartheid activist Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, who died on April 2 at the aged of 81. She was surrounded by her family at the time of her death.

"Winnie was our elder, and I was only 16 years old", reminisces a family friend of the late anti-apartheid struggle stalwart Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.

Madikizela-Mandela led an global campaign calling for his release.

"To honour the memory of this very big icon, the ANC encourages the masses of our people throughout the country to work their land in their yards, schools and villages and to produce their own food in honour of Mama Winnie Madikizela-Mandela". He said: "Even at 81 [she] was one person I thought would live forever".

"She inspires me and wish other women in the current struggle could be like her", said 18-year-old Zanele Ngubo, who was born after the end of apartheid. Deputy president David Mabuza is expected to deliver the keynote address later today.

A live stream of the service has been broadcast on the internet for those unable to attend.

Speaker after speaker spoke fondly of the late former leader of the ANC Women's League, of how gallant she was, her selflessness, bravery and mainly her unbreakable will of steel in her fight against apartheid and pave the way for freedom.

"We appreciate the contribution Mama Winnie made during the struggle".

In 1991, a court found Madikizela-Mandela guilty of the boy's kidnapping and assault and sentenced her to six years in jail.

The choice of Soweto's 37,000-capacity Orlando stadium for both the memorial service and the full state funeral planned for Saturday was highly symbolic. "She was also our mother", she added. - ANC Deputy Secretary-General Jessie Duarte.

Madikizela-Mandela was known to have kept the candle burning while her then husband Nelson Mandela was serving time on Robben Island.

HAND IN HAND-In this file photo dated February 11, 1990, Nelson Mandela and wife Winnie walk hand in hand, raising their clenched fists upon his release from Victor prison, Cape Town, 27 years in detention. "Being the first grandchild, she and grandfather [Nelson Mandela] were able to raise me upon his release from prison", he said. Click any of these buttons below!