ANC members sing during the memorial service for Winnie Madikizela-Mandela at the Orlando Stadium in Soweto. Picture: Matthews Baloyi/African News Agency/ANA

Johannesburg - As revolutionary songs echoed inside Soweto's Orlando Stadium as thousands paid tribute to Winnie Madikizela-Mandela on Wednesday, her first grandchild lambasted critics of the late anti-apartheid struggle icon.

Bambatha Mandela, the son of Madikizela-Mandela's second child Zindzi, said it was time to mourn and also celebrate his grandmother's legacy, rather than cast aspersions on her. He said many people praised her former husband Nelson Mandela without recognising her own person.

"For those [who] are still trying to drag grandma's name, archbishops and chiefs alike...the people are angry. We are hurt and will not tolerate your defamatory messages. You must learn to respect this legendary individual who has mothered a nation instead of behaving like ungrateful children," he said to loud cheers.

"She gave us her all, her life. She could have left the township...she could have chosen to go live in the suburbs but she chose to remain with the people [in Soweto]..the people she fought for, loved and is the same people who still protect her legacy today."

Members of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and those of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) were visible in their colours as they joined mourners mostly clad in African National Congress (ANC) colours spread around the 40 000 seater stadium. Mourners sang Madikizela-Mandela's favourite revolutionary song, 'Yibambeni' in unison, sending echoes around the stadium.

Orlando Stadium erupts as mourners sing 'Yibambeni' a favourite revolutionary song of late struggle icon Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. MEDIA: Getrude Makhafola/ANA

"Even at 81, I thought my grandmother will live forever. It is hard experiencing this loss because she was not only my grandmother but my mother. Being the first grandchild, she and grandfather [Nelson Mandela] were able to raise me upon his release from prison," he said.

Deputy President David Mabuza said Madikizela-Mandela was a unifier who became a face of the struggles faced by black women all the world.

Members of the EFF leadership applauding the poem recited by Mzwakhe Mbuli. PHOTO: Siphelele Dludla/ANA

"Her activism cuts across the distinctions of gender, race and class. She was committed to the attainment of all human rights for all people. Her only preoccupation was to serve humanity in its totality," Mabuza said as he addressed mourners at the memorial service.

"She triumphed to lead a life of reconciliation, and the reconstruction and renewal of our society." 

Anti-apartheid activist and former unionist Rita Ndzanga, once arrested along with Madikizela-Mandela, said the Mother of the Nation has done her part since the fight against the pass laws.

"We were prepared to go jail, we were prepared to fight an unjust system...we were never gonna carry those heavy passes...Nomzamo has done her part," she told mourners.

Perhaps the most personal heartfelt tribute for the day came from Madikizela-Mandela's personal assistant, Zodwa Zwane, also a preacher. She laid bare Madikizela-Mandela's pain and loneliness sometimes. An emotional Zwane spoke about the last day she spent with Madikizela-Mandela, 48 hours before she died at Johannesburg's Milpark Hospital on April 2, after a long illness.

Senior ANC leadership join in on the struggle song "Ibambeni webafana" as mourners honour Mama Winnie Madikizela-Mandela in Soweto on Wednesday. MEDIA: Siphelele Dludla/ANA

She said the 81-year-old Madikizela-Mandela was emotional when she saw her on Saturday after attending a Good Friday church service. 

Zwane said they spoke about forgiveness and how Jesus fell when he was dragged to the cross.

"Whenever she spoke about forgiveness, she would have tears in her eyes...but this time the tears would not roll down her face and she said Zodwa, I do not have tears anymore, because I felt the pain up to the threshold..tears do not come down anymore," she said as she withheld tears.

"She went on and came to a point where she said Jesus's words - "Father where are you?" She then said to me...Zodwa, you know, if a person has never found themselves where God is to take away their misery...that person has not felt pain...she said she felt sorry for people who have never asked where God it when they hurt," said Zwane as the stadium cheered and clapped.

When Madikizela-Mandela asked Zwane to share with her what she preached on Friday at church, Zwane promised her she would do so on Tuesday. That was not to be as she received a call on Monday that Madikizela-Mandela had passed away after she was admitted to Milpark hospital the previous day.

African News Agency/ANA