Journalists in the United States and South Africa have questioned a recent claim by US Presidential hopeful Joe Biden. The former Vice President has remarked on at least three occasions in the past fortnight that he was arrested during the ’70s in Soweto… on his way to Robben Island to pay a visit to Nelson Mandela.
Speaking to voters in South Carolina, Biden said: “I had the great honour of being arrested with our U.N. ambassador on the streets of Soweto trying to get to see him on Robbens Island.” (Biden referred to it as Robbens instead of Robben.)
This particular memory does not appear in his 2007 memoir (despite it mentioning his trip to SA in the ’70s), and his travelling companion at the time, Andrew Young – the then US Ambassador to the UN – does not recall the events in the same way.
Young told the New York Times: “No, I was never arrested and I don’t think he was, either.”
Biden has also said that Mandela thanked him for it. “After he 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.'”
Back in 2013, Biden had recalled his trip as a 34-year-old and said “when I tried to enter Soweto township with Congressmen Andrew Young of Atlanta and Charles Diggs of Detroit, I remember their tears of anger and sadness”, but he didn’t then mention an arrest.
The New York Times was unable to verify the story as South African arrest records are not available in the US, and they couldn’t locate it in any news source.
Many journalists have pointed out the obvious distance between Soweto and Robben Island.
Whether the story is true or not, Biden did speak out against apartheid in South Africa, as can be seen in the video below in which he argues with passion that the US’ loyalty should lie with South Africans, not South Africa.
— Taks@Tuxedo (@TaksTakura) February 22, 2020
Adding to @katieglueck's story is Biden's quote doesn't make geographical sense. "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 Robbens Island." Soweto is almost 900 miles away from Robben Island https://t.co/WtlZMdkexq
— Alex Daugherty (@alextdaugherty) February 21, 2020