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Sat, 02.04.1989

Nkosi Johnson, HIV/AIDS Activist, born

Nkosi Johnson

*Nkosi Johnson was born on this date in 1989. He was a Black African activist for AIDS, the 20th-century Black face of the disease in South Africa.

At age two, his mother, terrified of her community’s reaction if it were known that she and her child were infected, left Nkosi at a care center for HIV-positive people. One of the center directors, Gail Johnson, took Nkosi home and became his de facto foster mother.  For most of his 12 years, his family could not afford the medicines that would probably have kept him alive through adolescence and maybe even into adulthood. That, perhaps, gave him even more in common with the estimated 4.7 million South Africans with HIV.

In 1997 he made headlines worldwide when his primary school was not keen to accept an HIV-positive pupil.  They had failed to consider the power of an angry mother. Gail Johnson took the school on in the media and the courts until Nkosi became a welcomed pupil.  He enjoyed school, although Nkosi would have had to repeat a year if he had remained healthy due to too little diligence concerning homework. Also, in 1997, Nkosi's biological mother, Nonthlanthla Nkosi, died. He met his father for the first time at her funeral.

The 12-year-old boy captured worldwide attention last July in Durban when he rebuked his country's President, Thabo Mbeki, in front of thousands at the 13th International AIDS Conference for the politician's handling of an epidemic that will claim millions more lives in South Africa. President Mbeki left partway through Nkosi's speech. Gail and Nkosi Johnson's fight raised awareness of HIV-positive children's stigma and led to implementing of policies to protect them. Nkosi’s face represented AIDS in Africa for most of his short life. Nkosi Johnson, an AIDS campaigner, died on June 1, 2001.

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