Former South African president
Nelson Mandela walks past the
late Walter Sisulu's coffin

Police estimated that at least 10,000 people had gathered at the stadium in Soweto for the funeral of Sisulu, who died at age 90 last week.

Those who attended said they came to celebrate Sisulu’s life, rather than mourn his death.

"There is just excitement, not a feeling of sorrow. He was a great man, a soft-spoken man," said Miriam Vilakazi, a widow whose son, Prins, joined the ANC after anti-apartheid riots in 1976.

"Everybody in the township is talking about this funeral," she said

Former president Nelson Mandela entered the stadium to a hero's welcome with President Thabo Mbeki.

Mbeki, leading the tributes, said: "Walter Sisulu carried on his shoulders, on his mind and his soul the burdens of the poor, forever haunted by the cries of angry despair of the teeming and toiling masses ..."

Sisulu had an early career as an activist and was a founding commander of the ANC's armed wing in its battle to secure political equality for black South Africans.

In 1963, Sisulu was tried with Mandela and other activists for planning acts of sabotage and revolution.
 
He was sentenced with Mandela to life in prison and sent to Robben Island, off Cape Town where he spent the next 26 years.

Sisulu died last Monday in his Johannesburg home, two weeks before his 91st birthday.

He was one of a close circle of men, including Mandela and the late Govan Mbeki, President Mbeki's father, who led the fight against white oppression from the 1950s.

Another veteran of the anti-apartheid struggle, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, conducted his funeral.