The US is voting and there is just no escaping it. While it seems like the elections won’t make much of a difference to South African politics, they actually do. Whether it’s foreign policy, trade relations and most importantly sexual and reproductive rights, the president of America influences all of those. So what have the prospective next presidents of the United States of America (USA) said about South Africa?
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During their campaign trail, American president Donald Trump and Democratic candidate, Joe Biden both mentioned 26 countries. They’ve mentioned the more obvious countries in their speeches like China and Russia. The pair has also mentioned Japan, Cuba and most significantly to us – South Africa. Both Trump and Biden seem to consider South Africa as equalling Nelson Mandela. Their comments have mostly revolved around the first democratic president of South Africa.
Most South Africans probably remember what Biden said about South Africa. Early this year, during at least three campaign appearances, Biden said he was arrested as he tried to visit Nelson Mandela in prison during apartheid. During an appearance in South Carolina, he said: “This day, 30 years ago, Nelson Mandela walked out of prison and entered into discussions about apartheid. 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 Robbens Island.”
While Biden kept mentioning it during his campaign, this “fact” was something that had never come up before when he spoke about South Africa. As a young senator, Biden has visited South Africa during apartheid.
In March 2020, after much backlash over the story, Biden finally came out with the truth. He wasn’t arrested while trying to visit Mandela. He was held up at the airport for refusing to use a whites-only entrance upon his arrival in South Africa. Biden said: “They would not let me move anywhere. I guess I should’ve said I was detained; I was not able to move forward.”
Trump has said several things about South Africa and the African continent. Those statements haven’t always been the nicest of things. In a tell-all book by Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, he reportedly said he did not think Mandela “was a real leader — not the kind he respected.”
In the book, Cohen alleged that Trump praised the apartheid government: “Mandela f—ed the whole country up. Now it’s a s—hole. F— Mandela. He was no leader.”
Trump also got involved with the farm murders debate. He tweeted in 2018 that he would ask Secretary of State Mike Pomepo to study “the South Africa land and farm seizures and expropriations.”
At the time, the South African government immediately responded to reject Trump’s comments.
Regardless of who wins the November 3 election, the impact is going to be felt in South Africa. We just have to wait and see what happens.