“Sydney Maree is one of the world’s fastest runners. There’s no argument about that. The controversy is over whether he is the hero, or the villain, or the victim, of a tale that might have been written by Horatio Alger and Franz Kafka.” - Bob Lipsyte, CBS
Maree v. State explores the life of my father, Sydney Maree, whose career serves as a metaphor for the evolution of the South African state, from Apartheid to modern democracy. This feature-length documentary traces the parallels between Maree’s personal story and the historical, political and cultural contexts within which his life can be understood. Of particular interest are the ways in which his experiences can reveal inconvenient national truths, which have been covered up or subsumed in official histories and collective memory. Website: www.mareevstate.com
Who is Sydney Maree? (Background)
Born on September 9, 1956 in Cullinan, South Africa, Sydney Maree was raised by his aunts, uncles and grandparents. Political forces kept him away from his parents. The South African government imprisoned his father on Robben Island for his resistance work with the ANC and Pan African Congress, while his mother worked as a housemaid, raising other families’ children in whites-only Pretoria.
As part of the apartheid government policy to remove ‘black spots’ of settlement from desirable land, Maree’s family was forcibly removed to Hammanskrall in the early 1960s. After a few years there, he grew up in Atteridgeville, a black township outside of Pretoria. Maree remembers the traumatic experience of being forced off the land his family had legally owned for generations before the government sold it to Afrikaans farmers.
Growing up, Maree demonstrated a talent for running. While still a schoolboy in 1976, less than six months after the Soweto Riots, he gained national and international attention by running his first sub-four minute mile. With a time of 3:57.9, Maree’s performance was the second fastest high school mile ever recorded and the first and only sub four-minute mile run by a South African schoolboy, propelling him into the international track and field spotlight. He was named South Africa’s “Black Sportsman of the Year” and won a sponsored trip to the United States.
Under the instruction of legendary track and field coach Jumbo Elliot at Villanova University, Maree worked to become a World Record-holder in the 1500-meters, a U.S. citizen, and a two-time Olympian for the United States. But Maree reached prominence at a time when international sport bodies began boycotting South Africa in reaction to the legalized racism practiced under Apartheid. Maree experienced the boycotts firsthand; he was barred from competing internationally for four of his most prime competitive years.
"In South Africa, I was punished for being black,’ he said. ‘In the United States, I was punished for being South African. It built me and it broke me. But it built me more than it broke me.”
Despite these hurdles, Maree received American citizenship in 1984 and went on to become a two-time Olympian for the U.S. (1984 and 1988). Maree’s victory in the inaugural 5th Avenue Mile in New York (1981), where he missed breaking Sebastian Coe's world mile track record by five hundredths of a second, placed him firmly on the international athletics map and remains unsurpassed. He would go onto hold four U.S. records in the 1500m, 2,000m, 3,000m and 5,000m races, making him one of the top 5 U.S. athletes of all time. Maree retired in 1991 and returned to South Africa in 1995 to participate in the country’s democratic transition.
In 2004 Sydney Maree, was inducted into the South African National Hall of Fame and awarded South Africa’s highest civil honor for “excellent achievement in the field of athletics and contribution to non-racial sport.” His life, President Thabo Mbeki said, was “inextricably linked with the struggle against oppression and racism in South Africa.” That same year, as one of the countries leading Economists, Maree was appointed CEO of the National Empowerment Fund (NEF): a state-owned enterprise within South Africa’s Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), established to facilitate black economic equality and transformation in the country.
Shortly thereafter, Maree was charged with fraud in connection to a no-bid contract with Deutsche Bank Securities. But the close relationship between then Minister of Trade and Industry (Alec Erwin, Maree’s boss) and the head of Deutsche Bank South Africa (Martin Kingston) was cited as the primary motive for the deal, leaving many to wonder if Maree was simply a scapegoat. Around the same time, evidence damaging to the Mbeki Administration (including several of Maree's superiors) began to surface with regard to South Africa’s $4.8 billion Arms Deal.
In 2008, after several delays and judicial irregularities (including “missing” evidence), Maree was convicted of Fraud and sentenced to 10 years in prison. He began serving his sentence earlier this year after being denied the right to Appeal. Many questions remain, the answers to which are increasingly important as investigations into the Arms Deal reopen in South Africa and parallel investigations begin in the United Kingdom and Germany.
Why Should You Support this Project?
As Alec Russell writes, “South Africa’s negotiated transition from white rule to democracy was one of the wonders of the late twentieth century. But it was only the first chapter of the postliberation narrative.”
Maree v. State is not just a film; its a campaign for South Africa's "Second Chapter" -- the realization of the ideals of the liberation struggle: economic equality, democracy, and good governance. Funds raised in this campaign will go towards upfront production costs, including: crew travel and expenses, cameras and equipment, and third-party licensing fees. Any additional funds raised will be dedicated to the social action campaign.
This project means everything to me and I am fully invested in seeing it through. By investing in this project you are investing in me. Anything you can pledge to help me share this story is deeply appreciated. Please click “Back this Project” in the top right corner of the page to make a pledge.
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