Accessibility links

Social Media Campaign Mounts to Free Jailed American in South Africa

  • Nico Colombant

This logo is being used on merchandise to help fund the film about former track and field star Sydney Maree.

This logo is being used on merchandise to help fund the film about former track and field star Sydney Maree.

There is a growing social media campaign taking place in the United States to free Sydney Maree, an American citizen and former Olympian who is now in prison in South Africa.

In less than three weeks, Sydney Maree's son, Daniel Maree, was able to raise $10,000 on the social media platform Kickstarter for a documentary he is calling "Maree v. State".

"Kickstarter kick started everything. It put us on the map. It got people aware of the project, because I had spent years developing grants, documents and proposals for the major grant makers and did not win any of them, did not receive any grants," he said.

Aims of the film include revealing what exactly happened to Sydney Maree, increasing support and even prompting his release.

A former world record holder in the 1,500 meters, the South-African born Maree finished fifth as an American in the 5,000 meters at the 1988 Olympics.

Now the 55-year-old, who returned to work in his native country in the mid-1990s, is in a South African prison, serving out a five-year term for fraud.

Maree was arrested in 2004 and charged with illegally transferring to a personal account the equivalent of $120,000 from South Africa's National Empowerment Fund, of which he was the chief executive.

Maree says he was told by a government superior to do this to hide an illegal transfer. His supporters call him a scapegoat and a victim of others engaging in corruption.

But South African courts ruled he acted independently and was motivated by greed. His appeals were rejected and he started serving his term this year.

Watch the trailer for Maree v. State


Theresa Walton, a professor from Kent State University, went to interview Maree in South Africa in 2007 as part of research for a book she hopes to release next year. “His life parallels so much, not just what is going on now with white collar crime and fraud in South Africa, or when he was not accepted as an American as he probably could or should have been when he was a runner, when he was a victim of apartheid in South Africa, his life parallels so much of bigger issues that he had to act within, in his own personal life," she said.

Walton is hoping Maree will get access to the information and lawyers he needs to continue making his case or get an early humanitarian release.

She is part of a group of American lawyers, athletes, artists and academics urging the U.S government to intervene on his behalf. They allege proper legal procedures were not followed.

Elizabeth Trudeau, from the U.S. Embassy in South Africa, responded to an interview request with an email saying that “due to privacy concerns, we are unable to discuss in detail this issue.”

She added, in her words, “the safety, security and support of American citizens abroad is our highest priority.”

In the trailer for the upcoming documentary there are snippets of interviews with the now jailed former sprinter, including this one, while the case dragged on. “Obviously, I am a little afraid. I am little concerned about my safety, about the safety of my family," he says in the film.

His son Daniel the filmmaker says he will continue working on a movie about his father, whatever the challenges, in what he says is an increasingly difficult environment in South Africa.

He mentioned the state secrets bill which was recently passed by parliament and is pending approval from a second chamber, the National Council of Provinces, before it can be signed into law. Opponents say the law would prevent media from exposing public corruption.

Daniel Maree hopes to release his movie, which he says is also about the state of South Africa today, before the London 2012 Olympics.

XS
SM
MD
LG