Madikizela-Mandela led an worldwide campaign calling for his release.
The Soweto Gospel Choir led those gathered in the singing of the national anthem as proceedings began.
For Matshepo who lives in Orlando West, Madikizela-Mandela was a woman who wanted unity.
Shongwe echoed her sentiments, saying Madikizela-Mandela had sacrificed her whole life so SA could experience liberation.
Although Madikizela-Mandela helped usher in a new, more equitable South African political system during her lifetime, she was also entangled in a number of scandals over the years.
"She added that there could be no better place to hold a prayer service and celebration of the life of Madikizela-Mandela than in the Free State, whose fearless people had played such a great role in the country's history".
Mookho Shongwe, 62, told News24 she had come to honour a fellow church member who had supported her and several other women when they lost their husbands as a result of violence between the ANC and the Inkatha Freedom Party in 1992.
In a social media campaign #Winnie has not died she has multiplied, scores of young women have posted pictures of themselves wearing doeks, the traditional head wrap that Madikizela-Mandela frequently wore.
"I used to ask her "Makhulu why don't you get a house near us or even stay for us for a few days" if my mother was away and she would say: "Darling‚ I don't think I would be able to sleep and if I do‚ I don't want to wake up next to my enemies"‚" said Bambatha. "I don't know where South Africa would be without her - no one can fill her space".
Thousands of South Africans paid tribute on Wednesday to Winnie MadikezelMandela at a memorial service in Soweto, the township at the forefront of the battle against apartheid and where she is revered for her role in the struggle.
The dark spots in her image were the accusation she ordered the killing of a 14 year-old boy, Stompei, accused of being a spy for the apartheid regime and her divorce from her husband Nelson Mandela after accusations of adultery.
"You decide to choose between the nation and your young children and it was a very hard choice to make", Madikizela Mandela said in 2013. When it happens every day of your life, when that pain becomes a way of life, I no longer have the emotion of fear. there is no longer anything I can fear. Madikizela-Mandela steadfastly denied any knowledge of any killings.
Though she fought fiercely for democracy, the political career that Madikizela-Mandela embarked on after the first free elections in 1994 floundered.
In 2003, she was convicted of fraud while serving as an African National Congress lawmaker.
Madikizela-Mandela had two children with former president Nelson Mandela.
"Was she a sinner or was she a saint?"
"For those of you who are still trying to drag the name of uMakhulu‚ archbishops and chiefs alike‚ the people are angry‚" Bambatha said.