Thousands of mourners have crowded into a stadium in Soweto, near Johannesburg, where the campaigner is being given a high-level send-off.
President Cyril Ramaphosa is sitting next to the two daughters of Madikizela-Mandela and Nelson Mandela.
Hundreds of people lined the streets of Soweto on Friday to see the funeral procession of Winnie Mandela ahead of her final send-off this weekend.
But she was later shunned by the political elite for endorsing punishment killings for government informers.
He called on the people of Soweto‚ where she lived until her death‚ to never forget Madikizela-Mandela.
He said Zenani, overcome by emotion, had said that her mother had suffered and had a very hard life.
"All those who resigned from the NEC of the women's league because they said they can't be led by a criminal they are here playing all important roles at your funeral, can we trust them or should we treat them with suspicion cde Winnie?"
When Madikizela-Mandela returned from exile she became involved with a group of young men known as the Mandela United Football Club, who were widely blamed for violence in Soweto. He apologised for only belatedly recognising her contribution.
"I'm sorry Mama that your organisation (ANC) delayed in according you its honour. The battle for our freedom was not some polite picnic to which you arrive with your best behaviour", she said to cheers.
Dlamini-Mandela was accompanied by her sister Zindzi Mandela.
In old age, Winnie Mandela emerged as a respected elder who was feted as a living reminder of her late husband - and of the long and celebrated struggle against apartheid.
Most of the 38-year long marriage was spent living apart with Winnie left alone to raise their children. For nearly three decades of that time, they were separated by Mr Mandela's long imprisonment.
But Mrs Madikizela-Mandela also found herself mired in scandal for decades. She passed away last week at the age of 81 years and, in her death, the global press and enemies of black consciousness went after her.
She will be buried in Johannesburg.
The 40,000-seater stadium was full to capacity, with many mourners clad in the green and yellow colors of the ANC. Member of the leftist party, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), also attended in large numbers.
Supporters of various political parties who are often at odds with each put their differences aside to pay tribute to the anti-apartheid activist.
The country is observing 10 days of mourning leading up to the struggle icon's official funeral at the Orlando Stadium today. "There was no internet‚ no cellphones‚ no Google‚ no Facebook and so for 27 years we knew Nelson Mandela was alive because his heart was beating and that was Winnie's heart‚" Jackson said.
"For those us who have been close to her‚ we have always appreciated just what she meant to the world". Mandela accused her of infidelity, and they divorced in 1996, two years after he was elected the first black president of South Africa.
While once she was shunned by South Africa's political elite, including her own party the ANC, in death she has been nearly universally lauded.
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