Raymond Buys, who had learning difficulties, was admitted to hospital and put on life support two months into a three-month training course run by Alex de Koker’s Echo Wild Game Rangers in the bush an hour south of Johannesburg.
He was severely emaciated and dehydrated, had brain damage, a broken arm and bruises, and cigarette burns all over his body. His mother was told that the chances of him surviving were “virtually zero”. He died two weeks later.
“I sent my son on this course to make him a better man, to give him a better future,” Wilma Buys told The Daily Telegraph. “I trusted Alex de Koker with his life.”
Mr de Koker, 49, and employee Michael Erasmus, 20, are currently 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 Mr Buys’ death.
His death is alleged to have been the third among the mainly Afrikaans children who attended the R22,000 (£1,500) courses run by Mr de Koker, who was reportedly a member of murdered white supremacist Eugene Terreblanche’s Iron Guards movement.
In 2007, 25-year-old Erich Calitz died from severe brain injuries, according to Afrikaans newspaper Rapport. The same year, 19-year-old Nicholas van der Walt died at the same training camp being run in Swartruggens in the Northwest province.
Mr Calitz’s sister Mathilda Groenwald told Johannesburg’s Star newspaper that her brother was slightly brain-damaged and struggled to hold down jobs. She told the paper he was beaten when he asked to quit the camp, adding: “Alex (de Koker) told him that he wasn’t gay and he would make a man out of him”.
Mr de Koker was handed a suspended sentence in 2009 over Mr Calitz’s death but escaped charges for Mr van der Walt’s death, which was ruled to have been caused by a heart attack.
Mrs Buys said her son had been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and was struggling at school. The course had been recommended to her by a friend. When she went to see Mr de Koker, he told her he could help her son find a job in the wildlife trade.
She said that her son started the course on January 12, 2011. Over the next two months, she said, she spoke to Mr Buys 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 rang Mrs Buys on March 23 to say her son had been admitted to hospital for tests. When she arrived, she found that he was dying.
This week, during the trial of the two men at Vereeneging District Court, a boy who shared a tent with Mr Buys sobbed as he recalled how recruits carried out manual labour including cutting grass with machetes and stacking stones to build a dam.
Gerhard Oosthuizen, 19, said Mr Buys was chained to his bed after he tried to escape and, forbidden from going to the bathroom, repeatedly soiled himself, according to a report in Beeld newspaper.
He was said to have told the court that on one occasion, when Mr Buys went to the toilet in a field while the recruits worked, he was forced to eat his own faeces.
On another, Mr Oosthuizen said, after Mr Buys tipped over a container of washing powder, he was forced to eat what he had spilled and vomited foam.
He said Mr Buys was beaten with planks, sticks and plastic pipes when he failed to work, the paper reported.
He was said to have claimed that he had once seen Mr Buys in a hut at the camp with a pillowcase over his head, being shocked with a stun gun by Mr de Koker and Mr Erasmus.
“He screamed … I was scared and ran away,” the newspaper quoted the witness as saying.
Both Mr de Koker and Mr Erasmus have pleaded not guilty to the charges. The case continues.