By Shirley Li
December 06, 2013 at 03:22 PM EST
Juda Ngwenya/AP

Bono honored Nelson Mandela in a 1,000-word essay published by TIME following the South African leader’s death.

“As an activist I have pretty much been doing what Nelson Mandela tells me since I was a teenager,” he writes. “He has been a forceful presence in my life going back to 1979, when U2 made its first anti-apartheid effort.”

In the piece, titled ‘The Man Who Could Not Cry,’ the U2 frontman calls his friend “a remarkable man” for spearheading South Africa’s transition, as well as “a hardheaded realist… an idealist without naiveté, a compromiser without being compromised.” He praises Mandela for his efforts against extreme poverty and his leadership in providing AIDS medication to his people.

Bono goes on to share anecdotes from his time with Mandela — “I, like everyone else, was mesmerized by his deft maneuvering as leader of South Africa,” he writes — and pinpoints how Mandela could weave humor with his pragmatism, calling him a man “who could charm the birds off the trees–and cash right out of wallets.” Bono writes of a time when Mandela told him about how he managed to persuade the “famously frugal” Margaret Thatcher to personally £20,000 to his foundation: “‘I asked,'” Bono remembers Mandela saying. “‘You’ll never get what you want if you don’t ask.'”

“For all this man’s farsightedness and vision, he could not produce tears in a moment of self-doubt or grief,” Bono concludes. “He had surgery in 1994 to put this right. Now, he could cry. Today, we can.”

Head over to TIME for the full essay.