In interview, Bono cites Nelson Mandela’s wit, restraint

Bono and Nelson Mandela embrace after the leader's release.

NEW YORK -- Few entertainment luminaries have had as keen an eye into Nelson Mandela’s personality and worldview than Bono, The Edge and the rest of U2.

Just a day before Mandela’s passing, Bono and Edge were speaking to The Times about Madiba, whom they campaigned with on numerous social issues, particularly the global AIDS crisis. Band members felt strongly enough about the Nobel Peace Prize winner’s legacy that they contributed a song to the soundtrack of Justin Chadwick’s “Mandela” biopic, a closing-credit number titled “Ordinary Love.”

On Wednesday, Bono, who also penned this essay for Time, said that he saw Mandela’s greatness in his forgiveness of his white captors -- not just because it heeded his better angles but because it kept larger goals in mind.

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“Mandela’s heroism is the heroism of a man who suffered so badly for what he thought of as freedom,” Bono said at a downtown restaurant. “And yet when he had the upper hand he has this incredible self-control and these incredible leadership qualities. ‘We do want revenge but more than revenge we want a future for our kids, for all the kids of South Africa. And that’s the important imperative here, not to lash out.’” He paused. “That’s what’s really inspiring.”

Bono and Edge said that though it was his political leadership that the world most knew him for, in person it was Mandela’s dry wit that would win you over.

“He would always turn on the humor, mock you a little and then mock himself. Mostly himself,” Bono said. “It was this great disarming quality.”

So if he wanted the rock star to undertake a cause, how would he convince him? With a little reverse psychology.


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“He’d say ‘You shouldn’t do this; it’s a complete waste of your time,’” Bono recalled, rendering a perfect vocal rendition of the South African icon. “‘A man like you with such responsibilities? Why would you want to be at a concert to celebrate an old man like me?’” Bono laughed. “And suddenly you were putty in his hands.”

Added The Edge: “That’s his philosophy of dealing with the world.”

As for the song, which is inspired in part by love letters between Madiba and Winnie (more on that in a separate story), Bono said that he intended it to work on both the level of their marriage and the level of white-black relations in South Africa.


“It’s a plea for common decency among the people who’ve been oppressed,” Bono said. “And it’s a plea for common decency in a marriage as it starts to fall apart.”


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