Feb 28, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Biden retracts claim he was arrested in South Africa

Joe Biden speaking at a campaign rally in South Carolina
Joe Biden. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Former Vice President Joe Biden told CNN Friday morning that he had not been arrested during a 1970s trip to South Africa during which he tried to visit Nelson Mandela, despite recently claiming he had been.

Why it matters: Biden made the claim multiple times while campaigning in South Carolina, where he is trying to court a sizable base of black Democratic voters in this weekend's primary contest. The Washington Post and the New York Times questioned the credibility of the claims and could not find any official confirmation of the arrest.

  • As a senator, Biden did support the anti-apartheid movement in the 1970s, the Post notes.

What Biden is saying: "When I said arrested, I meant I was not able to move. Cops would not let me go with them. I wasn't arrested. I was stopped. I was not able to move where I wanted to go."

  • Biden's campaign said: “It was a separation. They, he was not allowed to go through the same door that the — the rest of the party he was with. Obviously, it was apartheid South Africa. There was a white door, there was a black door. He did not want to go through the white door and have the rest of the party go through the black door. He was separated. This was during a trip while they were there in Johannesburg," per the Times.

Context: Biden claimed he was arrested "on the streets of Soweto," a township in Johannesburg, alongside former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Andrew Young while trying to see Mandela, who was in prison at the time, Politico reports.

  • Young previously told reporters that he had not been arrested in South Africa, and didn't believe Biden was either.
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