SUMTER, S.C. — Joe Biden admitted on Friday that he had not been arrested in South Africa, despite claiming multiple times on the campaign trail in recent weeks that he had been while trying to see the anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela.
“I guess I wasn’t arrested,” Biden said in an interview on CNN’s “New Day.” “I was stopped. I was not able to move where I wanted to go.”
In the Friday interview, the former vice president stressed his work on anti-apartheid measures and described being separated at the airport from African-American colleagues on a congressional delegation to South Africa, though a separation does not constitute an arrest.
“I said, ‘I’m not going to go in that door that says white only,’” Biden said, describing a confrontation with the police. “‘I’m going with them.’ They said, ‘You’re not, you can’t move, you can’t go with them,’ and they, and they kept me there.”
He added: “What they finally did, they said, OK, they’re not going to make the congressional delegation go through the black door, they’re not going to make me go through the white door.”
In recent weeks, as he campaigned in South Carolina and Nevada, Biden told a very different story.
“This day, 30 years ago, Nelson Mandela walked out of prison and entered into discussions about apartheid,” Biden said at a campaign event in South Carolina this month. “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.”
The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in the late 1970s, Andrew Young, told The New York Times last week, “No, I was never arrested and I don’t think he was, either.”
Biden has also said on the campaign trail that after Mandela was released, “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.’”
On Friday, he offered a different account of that conversation.
“When Nelson Mandela was freed and came to the United States, he came to my office. He was one of the most incredible men I ever met,” Biden said. “He sat down in my office, thanked me, thanked me for trying to, all the work I did on apartheid.”