Thousands of mourners gathered Wednesday in South Africa for a public memorial service for Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, the anti-apartheid campaigner and former wife of the late President Nelson Mandela. The memorial in Soweto comes ahead of a funeral service to be held on Saturday.
Madikizela-Mandela died in a Johannesburg hospital on April 2 at the age of 81, after what her family said was a long illness. She was known as the “Mother of the Nation” because of her struggle against white minority rule in South Africa.
Singing echoed around Orlando Stadium in Soweto as the mourners waited, some dancing as they sang, for the service to start.
Many were clad in the black, green and gold of the ruling African National Congress political party, some in T-shirts with an image of Madikizela-Mandela.
The Soweto Gospel Choir led those gathered in the singing of the national anthem as proceedings began.
Rita Ndzanga, a frail former anti-apartheid fighter who was detained alongside Winnie, drew rapturous cheers from the crowd as she spoke about their experiences.
“I remember when we were arrested in our fight against pass laws for women,” she said, describing how they were both breastfeeding at the time.
As well as numerous ministers, religious leaders and family members, George Bizos, an anti-apartheid icon who was close friends with Nelson Mandela, also attended.
Madikizela-Mandela’s grandson, Bambatha Mandela, said it was a time for mourning but also a time to celebrate the life of an “extraordinary woman” who was “a mother, a soldier, an icon.”
He paid tribute to her efforts in support of his grandfather. “Behind every great man is a greater woman. Umama was the embodiment of that quote,” he said, using a local word for mother.
Several of Madikizela-Mandela’s great-grandchildren also spoke in remembrance of her. “Big mummy, we all love you,” said one. Winnie Madikizela was married to Nelson Mandela for 38 years. -Agencies