Raymond Buys looked a picture of health and vitality before being sent by his parents to The Echo Wild Game Rangers training course, to “Make him a better man, to give him a better future” on 12th January 2011. Less than ten weeks later the 15 year old was in hospital, severely malnourished, dehydrated, his arm was broken in two places and there were cigarette burns and wounds all over his body.
He was put on life support in intensive care just two months into the three-month course at the bush camp an hour away from Johannesburg, South Africa. He was so badly injured his mother was told by the doctors the chances of his survival were ‘Virtually Zero’. Raymond Buys lay for four weeks in intensive care before he died.
‘I sent my son on this course to make him a better man, to give him a better future,’ Raymond’s mother, Wilma told The Daily Telegraph. ‘I trusted Alex de Koker with his life.’ Mrs Buys explained how her son had been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and was struggling at school and that the course run by Alex de Koker, had been recommended to her by a friend. Mr de Koker, promised her he could help, that he could find her son a job in the wildlife trade.
During the first two months of her son’s placement at the camp, she says she spoke to Raymond just three times – and was told by Mr de Koker that he was self-harming. “Raymond was only allowed to speak to me on speakerphone,” she said. “When I asked him why he was hurting himself, he told me ‘Mum, I’m not doing it to myself’.”
Mr de Koker called Mrs Buys on 23rd March and informed her that Raymond had been admitted to hospital for tests. When she arrived at the hospital, she found that he was dying.
Alex de Koker, 49, The Echo Wild Game Rangers ‘General’ and employee Michael Erasmus, 20, are on trial for charges of murder, child abuse and neglect, along with two cases of assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm in relation to Raymond Buys’ death.
Last week, the Vereeniging District Court heard the harrowing testimony of a boy who had shared a tent with Raymond Buys. Gerhard Oostuizen, 19, claims Buys was chained to his bed every night, was refused permission to visit the toilet and on one occasion was forced to eat his own faeces. On another occasion Oosthuizen said, that after Mr Buys tipped over a container of washing powder, he was forced to eat what he had spilled and vomited foam.
The 19 year old told how he observed that Mr Buys would be beaten with planks, hosepipes and sticks when he failed to carry out manual labour tasks. Oostuizen further alleges he saw Alex de Koker tie Buys to a chair naked with his head covered in a pillowcase, and would electrocute him with a stun gun.
Raymond is not the first young man to have allegedly died at the hands of Alex de Koker, there have been at least two others deaths at the camp. Eric Calitz, 18, and Nicolaas Van Der Walt, 19, have both died after being enrolled at the Echo Wild Game Rangers camp held on a farm near Vereeniging in 2007. The Calitz’s family were initially informed of his Eric’s death by text message. They were told that their son had died of a heart attack. Subsequently, the cause of death was changed to a seizure, and later, to dehydration. It was eventually revealed that Calitz had died from bleeding on the brain. Van der Walt’s death was first believed to have been a heart attack, but according to local media and forensic reports, the youth appeared to have been choked with a seatbelt.
The trouble started for Eric Calitz when he requested to leave expensive camp, de Koker reportedly told him he ‘wasn’t a moffie [gay] and he would make a man out of him’.
The Echo Wild Game Rangers training camp was supposedly set up by de Koker to teach boys how to become game rangers. However, police reports of the kind of activities that teens would undertake while on the camp do not suggest that a lot of “game ranging” took place. A preliminary police investigation in 2007 found that “the para-military style training presented on this course was not normal ranger training”. In that year, the court heard that De Koker and his “co-instructors” addressed each other using military ranks, and taught skills like leopard crawling and endurance running and walking.
In 2009, De Koker was handed a suspended sentence over Calitz but escaped charges for the death of Van Der Walt, and the camp was allowed to continue.
Gender activist Melanie Nathan has said the three young men were all perceived as ‘gay and clearly effeminate’. ‘With a little bit of digging [into the story], the gay reparative undertones start to emerge.’ Nathan wrote.
Both de Koker and Erasmus have pleaded not guilty to the charges, the court resumes in May.