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Namibian President Hage Geingob (2nd L), Congolese President Denis Sassou Nguesso (3rd L), South African President Cyril Ramaphosa (C), Zenani Mandela-Dlamini (2nd R) the daughter of anti-Apartheid icon Winnie Madikizela Mandela, attend her funeral at the Orlando Stadium, in the township of Soweto, concluding 10 days of national mourning on April 14, 2018, in Johannesburg.WIKUS DE WET/Getty Images

Eleven years ago, when Winnie Madikizela-Mandela was invited to speak at a fundraising gala in Toronto for an opera about her heroic life story, the Canadian government refused to give her an entry visa.

The government cited her apartheid-era criminal record as the reason for banning her. Many Canadians saw Ms. Madikizela-Mandela as a flawed figure, an advocate of violence and radicalism, despite her achievements in fighting for South Africa’s liberation from white-minority rule.

But today, all seems forgiven. When the icon of the anti-apartheid struggle died this month at the age of 81, the Canadian High Commission lowered its flag to half-mast. And on Saturday, the parliamentary secretary to Canada’s foreign minister was among the 40,000 people who gathered at her funeral to mourn her.

“It was a pretty incredible experience to be there, and to witness the celebratory nature of the ceremony,” said Matt DeCourcey, parliamentary secretary to foreign affairs minister Chrystia Freeland, after attending the funeral at a stadium in Soweto township where the casket was draped in the South African flag.

Under his originally announced schedule, Mr. DeCourcey would have completed his nine-day four-country Africa tour on Friday, leaving South Africa before the funeral. But he revised his schedule and extended his visit so that he could pay his respects.

“I was pleased to be here on behalf of the government of Canada, to stand in solidarity with someone who represents the long struggle against injustice and the long struggle towards equal human rights and respect for equal human dignity,” he told The Globe and Mail.

The federal government sees Ms. Madikizela-Mandela as a symbol of empowerment for women and girls, a top priority for Canada’s foreign policy and development assistance strategy.

“It was important for us to be here today to honour Winnie Mandela’s struggle to overcome injustice and the role she played as a leader for many women and girls in South Africa,” Mr. DeCourcey said.

Although she remains controversial for her endorsement of violence and her 1991 conviction for assault and kidnapping, Ms. Madikizela-Mandela has become an increasingly revered figure in South Africa in recent years, not only for her uncompromising political militancy and fearless resistance to apartheid, but also as a feminist leader whose views are increasingly accepted by South Africa’s mainstream.

Married for 38 years to anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela, she endured decades of persecution under the white-minority regime. She suffered torture from the police, frequent detention and surveillance, eight years of internal exile in a shack in a remote village, and 491 days of solitary confinement in prison.

“She was an African woman who – in her attitude, her words and her actions – defied the very premise of apartheid ideology and male superiority,” President Cyril Ramaphosa said in his eulogy to the funeral on Saturday.

“Proud, defiant, articulate, she exposed the lie of apartheid. She laid bare the edifice of patriarchy…. Loudly and without apology, she spoke truth to power. And it was those in power who, insecure and fearful, visited upon her the most vindictive and callous retribution.”

The apartheid authorities expected that Ms. Madikizela-Mandela would be defeated by her years of exile and imprisonment, Mr. Ramaphosa said. “Yet, through everything, she endured. They could not break her. They could not silence her.”

He also alluded to the issues of violence that have haunted her legacy. “We must acknowledge that we are a society that is hurting, damaged by our past, numbed by our present and hesitant about our future. This may explain why we are easily prone to anger and violence.”

Julius Malema, leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters party and the only opposition leader allowed to speak at the funeral, said Ms. Madikizela-Mandela had been “disowned” by some of the leaders of her own political party, the now-governing African National Congress, because of her militancy in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

He said she “died a perfect death: the death of a revolutionary, because she never sold out.”

He called for Cape Town’s international airport to be renamed in her honour. Johannesburg’s airport is already named for another liberation icon, O. R. Tambo.

Ms. Madikizela-Mandela’s oldest daughter, Zenani Mandela-Dlamini, recalled how her mother had brought the anti-apartheid struggle to global attention when her husband was isolated as a prisoner on Robben Island for decades.

“Long before it was fashionable to call for Nelson Mandela’s release from Robben Island, it was my mother who kept his memory alive,” she told the funeral. “She kept my father’s memory in the people’s hearts.”

Popular history about the anti-apartheid battle has created the impression that it was “a man’s struggle and a man’s triumph,” she said. “Nothing could be further from the truth. My mother is one of many women who rose up against patriarchy, prejudice and the might of a nuclear-armed state to bring about the peace and democracy we enjoy today.”

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