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Original Issue

Running into Trouble

The family of track legend Sydney Maree is protesting his imprisonment in South Africa

Three decades ago South African expatriate Sydney Maree became a voice for the inequities of his homeland's apartheid system, an elite miler without a country. Today his family is giving voice to Maree's struggle for freedom in the country it says has wrongly imprisoned him and thwarted his family's attempts to make contact.

Maree was an All-America at Villanova and set a world record for the 1,500 meters in 1983. He then became a U.S. citizen and competed at the '88 Olympics while South Africa was banned from the Games because of its separatist policies. Maree returned to South Africa in 1995 with his wife and five children and later took over as CEO of National Empowerment Fund, a government-owned corporation that provides small business loans to black-run companies. In 2004, Maree was charged with fraud. He pleaded not guilty but was convicted in '06. Maree claims his troubles began when he questioned a government superior who had instructed him to offer an NEF contract to Deutsche Bank without conducting a proper tendering process. The government official, Maree says, decided to invalidate the agreement but instructed him to transfer NEF funds into Maree's personal account, to be paid to Deutche Bank to avoid legal action.

Maree, 55, was convicted two years later but didn't begin serving his sentence until last June. According to Maree's son Daniel, 24, authorities would not release his whereabouts to his family, which had been unable to locate him for months. "The legal system is still rife with delays and corruption," says Daniel. Maree's 10-year sentence was commuted to five because he had been under virtual house arrest while his case dragged on. "Perhaps he can be a source of change again," says Daniel. "This isn't about Sydney Maree. It's about due process."



HAPPIER TIME Maree, enjoying his 1,500-meter world record, qualified for the 1984 and '88 Olympics as a United States citizen.