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Mandela an 'inspiration to greatness'
Former president Nelson Mandela is an inspiration to the youth to strive for greatness rather than material success.

Former president Nelson Mandela is an inspiration to the youth to strive for greatness rather than material success, American academic Cornel West said on Wednesday.

He was speaking at the first of a series of lectures themed 'The Meaning of Mandela', hosted by the Human Sciences Research Council in Pretoria.

West is a published author and has held positions at Harvard, Yale, Princeton and the University of Paris.

He said black young people in the United States are often asked whether they think black civil rights leaders died so that they could be successful.

He described such young people as strutting peacocks.

"These young people have a 'look at me!' attitude. They are strutting peacocks. Peacocks strut because they can't fly. Mandela comes from a tradition of people who fly," said West.

He said people of Mandela's generation and mindset are non-conformists who did not want to be well-adjusted in a system of injustice.

"Mandela was more free while he was on Robben Island because of his courage to think differently and his compassion for others than today's bourgeoisie living in Johannesburg," he said.

West named US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her predecessor, Colin Powell, as examples of materially successful black people.

"Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell are highly successful, but they use their success on behalf of the American empire and they will have to be accountable for that."

He said conservatism among African-Americans is nothing new, but the freedom struggle has always been about allowing people the freedom to choose.

"I will not look at them through my paradigm. They are free to be wrong," said West to thundering applause from the packed lecture hall.

West also commented on the success of talk-show host Oprah Winfrey.

"Oprah is an entrepreneurial genius but lacks political courage. I have told her so many, many times. She confuses charity with justice. Success is all right, but it is what you use that money for that matters."

He said Mandela should not be idolised and put on a pedestal but rather be viewed as an unsettling challenge.

"Let's not view Mandela as an icon standing on a pedestal in a museum. He should be viewed as an unsettling political, intellectual and social challenge for us to cut against the grain."

Secular and religious leaders have to recognise that all forms of idolatry are suspect.

Mandela comes from a Socratic tradition of questioning and criticism, which is something without which no democracy can survive.

"No democracy can survive outside of a culture of criticism, questioning and accountability ... not trashing, but genuine criticism."

West said he is opposed to terrorism and the actions of suicide bombers, but said the phenomenon is not new to the US.

"Terrorism is not alien to America. Lynching is American terrorism. For many years, black men, women and children were killed by racists and hung from trees, the strange fruit that Ella Fitzgerald sang so powerfully about."

He said anyone who kills innocent people is a "coward and a gangster". He realises suicide bombings are the last resort of people who feel their cause is not being recognised, but that nothing justifies such actions, whether they occur in Tel Aviv, the West Bank or anywhere else.

West said the September 11 terrorist attacks made all Americans feel the same emotions that African-Americans have felt for 400 years.

"Those terrorist attacks had all Americans feeling unsafe, insecure and hated from all sides. African-Americans had felt unsafe, insecure and hated from all sides for 400 years. The attacks gave white Americans a chance to find out how we had felt and learn how we had dealt with it." -- Sapa