Soweto, South Africa (CNN)South Africans gathered Saturday to bid farewell to Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, an anti-apartheid icon hailed as the mother of a nation and a political force.
South Africans mourn Winnie Mandela in a massive funeral
Crowds packed Orlando Stadium in Johannesburg's Soweto township for the funeral following a private service at the home of Madikizela-Mandela, the former wife of the late Nelson Mandela, who served as South Africa's President after fighting for decades to deliver the nation from apartheid.
Mourners followed her coffin in procession into the stadium, where the funeral began with the singing of the national anthem.
Her daughter, Zenani Mandela-Dlamini, was among the speakers at the funeral. Dignitaries also included Presidents of the Republic of Congo and Namibia, as well as civil rights leaders from around the world, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
"She made a choice to raise two families, hers and the beloved country," Mandela-Dlamini said. "She cherished freedom as much as she treasured family. She protected both from constant assault from apartheid state."
Madikizela-Mandela died this month in a Johannesburg hospital after a long illness. She was 81.
As one of the country's most prominent and polarizing figures, she retained political clout long after her divorce from Mandela. Since apartheid ended in the 1990s, she served in several government roles, including as a member of parliament and leader of the ruling party's women's league.
"Today, we lay to rest our heroine, a struggle stalwart and mother-to-the-nation," the government tweeted Saturday. It offered free rides for those who wanted to attend the funeral.
In his eulogy, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said Madikizela-Mandela was "an African woman who -- in her attitude, her words and her actions -- defied the very premise of apartheid ideology and male superiority."
Some speakers used the occasion to blast people -- even some in the African National Congress, or ANC, the ruling political party to which Madikizela-Mandela belonged -- who didn't stand by her during her legal troubles.
Those difficulties included an incident in December 1988, when her bodyguards, known as the Mandela United Football Club, kidnapped four boys belonging to another anti-apartheid party. One of them, Stompie Moeketsi, was murdered a few days later.
In May 1991, she was sentenced to six years in prison for kidnapping in relation to the incident -- allegations she denied -- but the sentence was later reduced to a fine.
At Saturday's funeral, Julius Malema, leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters leftist populist opposition party, gave a fiery speech excoriating those who turned their backs on her.