Mystery of trainee rangers' deaths awaits ruling on court

Date: 12 Jul 2007
With his long, flowing blond locks, the man pacing behind the simple court building could have been mistaken for a contestant in a Billy Ray Cyrus look-alike competition. Oblivious to the townsfolk of Swartruggens, a North West town better known by cross-border truckers en route to Botswana, the blond and two others are allegedly the masterminds behind a right-wing training camp where two young men died. Eric Calitz (18) and 19-year-old Nicolaas van der Walt both died at what was supposed to be a rangers' training camp near Vereeniging. At the Swartruggens tea house - a popular gathering point among locals - no one seemed to have heard of the case or a right-wing camp. The ignorance seemed to sweep through the local police station, directly across from the courthouse. In the dock of the single courtroom, the blond boss of the camp, Alex de Koker, cut a meek figure alongside his co-accused, Jaques Mans and Bianca Pronk. According to a witness, Calitz wanted to quit the camp, which prompted a violent reaction from De Koker. De Koker told Calitz he "wasn't a moffie and he would make a man out of him". Calitz's family were first told via SMS that their son had died of a heart attack. Later they were told it was a seizure, and even later that the cause of death was dehydration. Finally, it was revealed that Calitz had died of bleeding on the brain. Van der Walt was apparently choked with a seatbelt. The police are still probing how the deaths could initially have been declared as natural. The case was postponed to September 5, when a decision will be made as to which court will hear the case. By Beauregard Tromp The Star 12/07/07e1