President Biden again claimed over the weekend that he was detained by South African authorities while trying to visit Nelson Mandela in prison in the 1970s — despite admitting just last month that his telling of the story was false.

“I got stopped when I was a young senator trying to see Nelson Mandela in South Africa,” Biden said during a forum broadcast Sunday by left-wing outlet NowThis News. “Afterward he heard, and when he got released, he came to see me in Washington and he walked up to me [and] said, ‘Thank you.’”

Biden was responding to Jon-Adrian Velazquez, who received clemency from outgoing New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo after serving more than 23 years for convictions for second-degree murder, attempted murder and three counts of robbery. Velazquez, now a criminal justice reform advocate, had asked the president how he would create “clear, uniform standards for clemency.”

Biden said at least three times while running for president in 2020 that he was arrested trying to visit Mandela before admitting that wasn’t the case on Sept. 16 of this year, during a visit from South Africa’s current president.

Nelson Mandela
President Biden again claimed over the weekend that he was detained by South African authorities while trying to visit Nelson Mandela in prison in the 1970s.
Paul Gilham/Getty Images

“One of the great moments of my career was when — the first time Nelson Mandela came to the United States  [in 1990] … and we met in the Senate Foreign Relations executive committee room,” Biden told Cyril Ramaphosa at the White House. “… Afterwards, he asked if he could come by my office and he came by to say thank you because he heard I had been stopped trying to get to visit him, to see him in prison.”

“I said once — I said I got arrested. I wasn’t arrested, I got stopped, prevented from moving,” the president then clarified. “But he was extremely gracious.”

Biden’s tall tale got national attention in February 2020, when he told a South Carolina audience that he “had the great honor of being arrested with our UN ambassador on the streets of Soweto trying to get to see [Mandela] on Robbens [sic] Island.”

Robben Island
Soweto township, near Johannesburg, is hundreds of miles from the Robben Island prison off Cape Town, where Nelson Mandela was held.
Lindesberg/ullstein bild via Getty Images

His team later clarified that he was not arrested, but “separated” from other congressmen at an airport during a 1976 visit to Lesotho, which is encircled by South Africa.

Biden spokeswoman Kate Bedingfield admitted at the time that the story was false to the Washington Post and claimed Biden instead “was separated from the [Congressional Black Caucus] members he was traveling with at the airport, when he landed … He was not allowed to go through the same door as the rest of the party he was with.”

But Bedingfield said the incident took place in apartheid South Africa — not black-ruled Lesotho.

Jon-Adrian Velazquez
Biden was responding to Jon-Adrian Velazquez, who received clemency from outgoing Gov. Andrew Cuomo after serving more than 23 years.
Steven Hirsch

“There was a white door. There was a black door,” she said. “He did not want to go through the white door, and have the rest of the party go to the black door. He was separated.”

Regardless of where the alleged incident took place, Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler ripped Biden over the story in February 2020, calling it “ridiculous” and noting that the Soweto township, near Johannesburg, is hundreds of miles from the Robben Island prison off Cape Town, where Mandela was held.

Biden often shares false stories while attempting to demonstrate a personal connection to his audiences.

In May, Biden said at the Naval Academy’s graduation ceremony that he was appointed to the military school in 1965 by the late Sen. J. Caleb Boggs (R-Del.). A search of Boggs’ archive failed to turn up evidence of the appointment. 

In January of this year, Biden told students of historically black colleges in Atlanta that he was arrested during civil rights protests — for which there is no evidence.

Biden in September 2021 told Jewish leaders that he remembered “spending time at” and “going to” the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh after the mass murder of 11 people there in 2018. The synagogue said he never visited and the White House later said he was thinking about a 2019 phone call to the synagogue’s rabbi.

The latest Mandela blunder comes as Biden, the oldest president in history to hold office, acknowledged Sunday that concerns over his age are “legitimate.”

When asked by MSNBC’s Jonathan Capehart what he would tell supporters who are unsure whether he should seek re-election due to his advanced age, the president said “it’s a legitimate thing to be concerned about anyone’s age, including mine.”

“And I think the best way to make the judgment is to watch me,” the president added. “Am I slowing up? Do I have the same pace?”

With reporting by Steven Nelson



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