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*Nkosi Johnson was born this date in 1989. He was a Black African activist for AIDS; the 20th century Black face of the disease in South Africa.
At the age of two, his mother, who was terrified of her community’s reaction, if it were known that she and her child were infected, left Nkosi at a care centre for HIV-positive people. One of the directors of the center was 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 4.7million South Africans with HIV.
In 1997 he made headlines around the world 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 in the courts until Nkosi became a welcomed pupil. He enjoyed school, although if he had remained healthy Nkosi would have had to repeat a year, the result of too little diligence with respect to 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 part way through Nkosi's speech. Gail and Nkosi Johnson's fight raised awareness of the stigma facing HIV-positive children and led to the implementation of policies to protect them. For most of his short life, Nkosi’s face represented AIDS in Africa. Nkosi Johnson, AIDS campaigner, died June 1, 2001.
The African American Desk Reference
Schomburg Center for research in Black Culture
Copyright 1999 The Stonesong Press Inc. and
The New York Public Library, John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Pub.