South African AIDS Activist Nkosi Johnson Dies at Age 12Nkosi Johnson, a South African boy who was born HIV-positive and became "an outspoken champion" for those with AIDS, died today in his sleep in Johannesburg. Nkosi became internationally recognized for a powerful speech he delivered at the opening of last summer's 13th International AIDS Conference in Durban. He urged the South African government to provide HIV-positive pregnant women with drugs to reduce the risk of vertical transmission, and asked that AIDS patients "no longer be stigmatized" (AP/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 6/1). At the conference, Nkosi said, "You can't get AIDS by hugging, kissing, holding hands. We are normal human beings, we can walk, we can talk" (BBC News, 6/1). Nkosi was taken in at the age of two by his foster mother Gail Johnson, as his biological mother, also HIV-positive, could not afford to raise him. Nkosi and Johnson together led a fight against schools that discriminated against HIV-positive children, and their efforts gave rise to a 1997 policy forbidding schools from doing so. Nkosi also helped raise funding for Nkosi's Haven, a Johannesburg shelter for HIV-positive women and children. The AP/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that a foundation named after Nkosi will be established to raise money for AIDS orphans and to help infected mothers raise their children.
Parliament Expresses Regret
The South African Parliament today passed motions "expressing regret and sadness" for the death of Nkosi, and the Congress of South African Trade Unions said Nkosi "inspired all people suffering from the disease." Parliament Member Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, head of the ruling African National Congress' women's league and former wife of Nelson Mandela, said Nkosi "was a symbol of resistance in a different sort of way, and I hope that this is now a lesson for us as government to do our best to deal with this AIDS scourge" (AP/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 6/1). Gail Johnson described a conversation she had with Nkosi shortly before his death: "We chatted about death ... he had strong feelings about letting me down. I told him I would miss him and no one could take his place." Nkosi was the "longest-surviving child" known to be born with HIV in South Africa (BBC News, 6/1).