Business Insider Edition

Big questions over Joe Biden's claims he was arrested in Soweto while trying to see Mandela in jail

Kelly McLaughlin , Business Insider US
 Feb 23, 2020, 09:07 AM
Former Vice President Joe Biden. (Getty)
  • Former Vice President Joe Biden is telling a story on the campaign trail about being arrested in South Africa, but there's no record of him mentioning the arrest before now.
  • The 77-year-old has told three campaign events about being arrested while trying to visit Nelson Mandela in the 1970s.
  • The New York Times looked into his past mentions of South Africa and reported that Biden has never before publicly talked about an arrest.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Former US Vice President Joe Biden has told a story about being arrested in South Africa during several presidential campaign events in February, but there's no evidence he's ever mentioned the incident ever before.

Biden has told the story - in which he says he was arrested while trying to visit Nelson Mandela in the 1970s - at two events in Nevada and one in South Carolina, according to the New York Times.

But the New York Times reported that after a deep dive into Biden's memoir, past speaking events, and interviews, they found that he had never spoken about the arrest until the 2020 presidential race.

"This day, 30 years ago, Nelson Mandela walked out of prison and entered into discussions about apartheid," Biden said at a South Carolina event on February 11. "I had the great honour of meeting him. I had the great honour of being arrested with our UN ambassador on the streets of Soweto trying to get to see him on [Robben] Island."

This is a distance of 1,400km - plus a ferry ride.

The New York Times reported that Biden mentioned the 1970s South Africa trip in his 2007 memoir, but made no mention of an arrest.

According to HuffPost, Biden spoke about a 1977 visit to the South African Embassy in Washington in 2013 but did not reverence being arrested. Biden said at the time that he met with anti-apartheid leaders, though Mandela was still in prison and they did not have a chance to meet.

The Biden campaign has not yet responded to Insider's request for comment.

Former civil rights activist and Georgia congressman Andrew Young, who was a US ambassador to the United Nations from 1977 to 1979 told The New York Times that he travelled to South Africa with Biden and did not recall an arrest.

"No, I was never arrested and I don't think he was, either," the 87-year-old said. "Now, people were being arrested in Washington. I don't think there was ever a situation where congressmen were arrested in South Africa."

He said he respects Biden but supports Michael Bloomberg in the 2020 presidential race.

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