The owner of a “gay cure” camp in South Africa is denying any culpability in the death of a fifteen-year-old boy in his care.
In 2011, Raymond Buys’ parents enrolled him in the Echo Wild Game Rangers training course, a camp program that owner Alex de Koker promised his parents would make their son “man up.”
After just over two months in the course, Buys was admitted to an intensive care unit, cigarette burns and other wounds covering his body. He was severely malnourished and dehydrated, with an arm that was broken in two places. He died there a few weeks later.
De Koker, along with employee Michael Erasmus, have been charged with neglect, child abuse, assault with intent to cause serious injury, and murder.
Human rights advocate Melanie Nathan, who was born in South Africa herself, said on her blog that “in the culture, if one is effeminate [which Buys was considered], then one is automatically perceived as gay.”
His mother, Wilma Buys, told The Daily Telegraph in an interview, “I sent my son on this course to make him a better man, to give him a better future. I trusted Alex de Koker with his life.”
At a hearing in the Vereeniging Regional Court, de Koker claimed that Buys’ multiple injuries were all the result of fighting with another camper, or self-inflicted. He also admitted chaining Buys to a bed, but claimed it was because of “a rumor that he wanted to commit suicide.”
He also alleged that because he had been concerned about how Buys was faring, he recorded a number of conversations with him. However, according to de Koker’s own son, the recordings were staged in order to cover up the camp’s abuse of Buys.
The Huffington Post reported that de Koker called the murder charge a “blatant lie,” but admitted, “Yes, I was negligent. There are a lot of things I neglected to do.”
In 2013, a 19-year-old eyewitness and former campmate said that in addition to being chained to his bed every night, Buys was denied access to a bathroom and was once forced to eat his own waste. He also said that failure to complete a task involving manual labor was punishable by beatings with sticks, wooden planks, and pipes.
The witness additionally testified that he saw de Koker tie Buys to a chair, naked except for a pillowcase over his head, and use a stun gun on him.
Records show that two other boys died at the camp four years previously. The family of Nicolaas Van Der Walt, 19, was told that he died of a heart attack, but medical professionals said that he appeared to have been choked to death with a seat belt.
Another victim, Eric Calitz, 18, is reported to have asked permission to leave the camp, at which point de Koker told him that he wasn’t a “moffie” (a South African slur for “gay”) and he would “make a man out of him.”
According to medical records, Calitz died from dehydration and seizures, and he had suffered a brain bleed. His family, too, was told by the camp that he had died from a heart attack—via text message.
Though charged with both deaths, in 2009 de Koker was acquitted in Van Der Walt’s death and only given a suspended sentence for Calitz. Authorities also allowed the camp to stay open.
De Koker and Erasmus have both entered their pleas as not guilty.