Former Vice President Joe Biden’s presidential campaign finally admitted, Tuesday night, that Biden was not arrested fighting Apartheid in South Africa or agitating for the Nelson Mandela’s release from prison on the “streets of Soweto.”
Instead, a campaign official said Tuesday, Biden was merely “separated” from members of the Congressional Black Caucus while exiting the plane as the Congressional delegation arrived in South Africa for a tour of the country, sometime in the 1970s.
Biden had likely hoped to side-step the issue during Tuesday night’s debate in South Carolina, but Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) mentioned Nelson Mandela in passing late in the debate — perhaps intentionally — triggering questions for Biden’s staff in the post-debate “spin room.” Sanders “was citing an inspirational quote from the dissident and statesman,” Slate reported Wednesday, “but it also summoned the specter of the peculiar stories his rival Joe Biden has been telling about Mandela recently.”
At an event in Columbia, South Carolina, held in early February, Slate noted, Biden highlighted his friendship with Mandela to a crowd of mostly African-American voters — a major demographic in South Carolina and one that will likely determine the outcome of Saturday’s primary. Biden told the crowd that he was “arrested” in South Africa, alongside a United Nations ambassador, demanding to see Nelson Mandela in prison.
This day, 30 years ago, Nelson Mandela walked out of prison and entered into discussions about apartheid,” Biden told the crowd. “I had the great honor of meeting him. I had the great honor of being arrested with our U.N. ambassador on the streets of Soweto trying to get to see him on the island.”
Biden repeated the story “twice more in the next seven days,” according to the New York Times, which dug into the story after noting that Biden had not mentioned being arrested in South Africa before. He even embellished on the story in a final performance, adding that “after [Mandela] got free and became president, he came to Washington and came to my office…He threw his arms around me and said, ‘I want to say thank you.’ I said, ‘What are you thanking me for, Mr. President?’ He said: ‘You tried to see me. You got arrested trying to see me.'”
“Both the Times and the Washington Post, in separate looks, have found no evidence to support this story, and no instances of Biden mentioning it until recently,” the left-leaning outlet, Slate, reported Wednesday. “The U.N. ambassador at the time, Andrew Young, has said that he was never arrested in South Africa, and he didn’t think Biden was, either.”
Not to mention, the “streets of Soweto” are nowhere near Robben Island, the island prison where Mandela was held, and the “island” Biden referred to in his story. Robben Island is just six miles from Cape Town, South Africa, but it’s “hundreds” of miles from Soweto.
Tuesday night, Biden’s staff admitted that the former Veep hadn’t been arrested, and that the true story of Biden’s “hardships” in South Africa weren’t really “hardships” at all.
He took a trip with a CODEL [congressional delegation] in the ’70s, he was separated from the CBC [Congressional Black Caucus] members that he was traveling with at the airport when he landed,” a Biden deputy told reporters. “When making that remark, he was talking about his long record of fighting apartheid.”
Slate discovered the full story in a statement that Biden issued when Mandela died in 2013.
“When I exited the plane, I was directed to one side of the tarmac, while the African American congressmen traveling with me were sent to the other side,” the statement read. “I refused to break off, and the officials finally relented.”