JOHANNESBURG — It’s fitting that one of the most politically plugged-in rock bands is debuting its world tour in South Africa on the anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s first major rally after being released from prison, and at the same stadium where the anti-apartheid icon enthralled tens of thousands.
And it’s a coincidence, U2 members told reporters Friday before a rehearsal at the historic FNB Stadium — known as Soccer City when it hosted the World Cup opening and closing games last year, for which it underwent a major renovation.
Guitarist The Edge said he only learned the day before that Sunday’s concert fell on a historic day.
“It’s such a beautiful, poetic day,” he said.
Lead singer Bono noted that history was being made at the other end of Africa. In Egypt Friday, Hosni Mubarak resigned as president after three decades in power and weeks of pro-democracy protests.
“This continent is on fire,” Bono said, adding he hoped Egypt would benefit from leadership as visionary as Mandela’s.
The Edge added: “The real hope for Egypt is that it actually will become more democratic after this.”
Bono said Mandela and retired Cape Town Archbishop Desmond Tutu — who makes a virtual appearance in U2’s current show — have inspired his global campaigns against AIDS and poverty. Bono was planning to visit AIDS projects in South Africa between Sunday’s concert and a second one in Cape Town on Feb. 18. U2 last played in South Africa in 1998.
The band may also visit Mandela, who is 92, ailing, and retired from public life. Bono said he had been in touch and learned Mandela was doing well after being hospitalized last month with an acute respiratory infection. Bono said a visit was possible, but he would not push.
“The last thing you want to be is the visit that the great man has to endure,” he said.
The band discussed their musical and well as political heroes with reporters Friday. Bassist Adam Clayton said he would like to work with the Malian duo Amadou & Mariam, an opening act for their South African shows. Bono spoke of an early dream of having John Lennon produce their work, laughing at their naivete in their teens.
The band members, together three decades, said the secret to their longevity was friendship.
“We actually started out as friends, and then became a band,” The Edge said.