South Africa: Afrikaans film to expose horror of gay conversion camps

A crowdfunding campaign has been launched to bring the true stories of young gay Afrikaans men who were brutalised by ‘conversion’ camps to the big screen. Support it here

The film will be based on the play Vir.Ander, which premiered at the State Theatre in September. Written and directed by the Naledi award-winning Jannes Erasmus, it follows a group of boys who are sent to a conversion camp in order to become “men”.

The impact of the play on audience members was so deep and visceral that producers quickly approached Erasmus to translate the production into a film.

“We saw big men crying like babies,” Erasmus tells Mambaonline about the audience response to the play. “We had public apologies during our question and answer session, emotional mothers holding their boys that they have been trying to ‘fix’… It was a liberating experience to see this happening every night with different people.”

The hidden horror of these brutal masculinising camps was thrust into the spotlight in 2015 when two men, Alex de Koker and Michael Erasmus, who ran the Echo Wild Game Rangers Camp, were found guilty of the murder of 15-year-old Raymond Buys.

The teenager died in hospital in 2011 with brain damage, a broken arm, bruises and cigarette burns on his body after being abused in the camp, which promised parents to “turn boys” and “moffies” into “men”.

The play and film’s story is based on the real experiences of six young men who attended a conversion camp, including Erasmus’ friends. “It is horrifying to see what they had to go through,” he says. “Three innocent boys died because they were discarded by society and labeled as ‘not-man-enough’.” 

Erasmus explains that he is driven to create the film out of a real desire to make a difference, not just in telling the stories of past victims but to also help those facing stigma and abuse today.

“People don’t need an actual camp to bully someone, it still happens every day at work, at school, in our homes. Physical and mental abuse is just as bad as these camps because we have more suicide cases of young people than ever before.”

He adds: “In Afrikaans, the name says it all, we are not making this film for ourselves, we are making it Vir.Ander(for others) like us.” Read more via Mamba Online