'Mama Winnie' fought for us to get freedom - supporters remember Madikizela-Mandela at memorial

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela's grandchildren are seen during the official memorial service of the late struggle icon Winnie Madikizela-Mandela at Orlando Stadium. (Frennie Shivambu, Gallo Images)
Winnie Madikizela-Mandela's grandchildren are seen during the official memorial service of the late struggle icon Winnie Madikizela-Mandela at Orlando Stadium. (Frennie Shivambu, Gallo Images)

Ordinary members of the public and dignitaries alike agreed when they gathered in Soweto on Wednesday that without Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, South Africa would not have known freedom.

"She's been our mother, the mother of the nation," said Social Development Minister Susan Shabangu as she arrived at the Orlando Stadium on Wednesday morning, shortly before the official memorial service for Madikizela-Mandela, who died last Monday, got underway.

"For us coming from Soweto, Orlando, she was an inspiration, even as young girls. There was a lot we learned from her, even when she was banned," she said.

LIVE: 'Don’t ever forget her name, she worked hard to get freedom' - Ndzanga at Mamma Winnie's memorial

Shabangu said they drew a lot of strength from "her vicious fight against apartheid".

She said Madikizela-Mandela was one of the first women consulted in 1979 when the African National Congress instructed them to resurrect the women's movement.

"[She was] one of the women who groomed us, taught us discipline."

'Important individual in a collective'

"We'll miss her. While she was sick, we didn't expect her to leave us so early. But may her soul rest in peace. South Africa will lose a lot.

"She has been our icon, our internationalist, an activist and always there for the poor."

READ: Dignitaries set to attend Madikizela-Mandela funeral and memorial

ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu said the death of another struggle stalwart, Zola Skweyiya, on Wednesday morning was "adding another pain to this pain that we're experiencing".

He described Madikizela-Mandela as someone who spoke her mind.

"She defied everything apartheid threw at her. They threw raids, they threw detention without trial, they threw at her solitary confinement, they threw at her banishments, they threw at her house arrests, they threw at her torture," Mthembu said.

"Despite all of these things they did to her, she stood firm in her beliefs and stood firm in aiding the struggle for our freedom. Indeed, she always said she was part of the collective of the liberation struggle. But she was a very important individual in that collective.

"I'm convinced without the likes of Mam' Winnie, our freedom would not have come. Without her sacrifice, her daily sacrifice, her yearly sacrifice, the freedom that we all enjoy today would not have come and we would like to thank her very much for this freedom, because she contributed with her life, by the way, for the freedom that we enjoy today."

It wasn't only the politicians who honoured her memory, but members of the public also spoke fondly of Madikizela-Mandela's contribution toward a free SA.

'She deserved more'

"I'm here to commemorate the memory of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela," Puna Tetyana told News24 while the stadium was still filling up.

"When she passed away, more information was given. I feel like, she deserves, she deserves a lot. More than she was given," she said.

"I'm here to respect her."

Kobela Kumalo also said she came to pay her lasts respects to "uMama, the woman who I have known since the 80s when I was still at school".

"This is close to my heart," she said. "I've grown [up] seeing her achieving miracles. I've never seen that resilience in a woman. And you know what, I become emotional because she has done so much and she never got the respect she deserves."

Kumalo was in a grocery store in 2015 when she saw "this tall, beautiful woman".

"Everybody was turning, looking at her like 'this is Mama Winnie'. I was dumbstruck," she said.

"I've never experienced such beauty."

Ayanda Washington Ndlovu was at work when he heard the news of Madikizela-Mandela's death.

"I just dropped everything," he said.

"She fought for us to get freedom."

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