Biographies of Famous South Africans
Special South Africans


Those who have inspired us. Those who have defined us.
Those who have shown us our common humanity.

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Nkosi Johnson
AIDS Activist
4 February 1989 - 1 June 2001

Nkosi JohnsonNkosi Xolani Johnson was born on 4 February 1989 with HIV and was the longest surviving child born with the virus in the country. His mother has since died of Aids, and he was adopted when he was two by a foster mother, Gail Johnson.

In the absence of money for drugs, Nkosi had survived on a healthy diet, vitamin supplements and minimising the stress of being HIV positive. Ms Johnson attempted to give him a purpose by turning him into a spokesman for Aids awareness at a time when the country's infected population was silenced by the suffocating stigma of fear and prejudice. But for Nkosi, who had seen his real mother die of Aids, the frightening inevitability of his own impending death was never far away.
Speaking before his death Ms Johnson said: "We chatted about death... He had strong feelings about letting me down," she said.

"I told him I would miss him and no one could take his place."

Nkosi will be particularly remembered for a speech he made at the World Aids Conference in Durban in July 2000. He told delegates:
"You can't get Aids by hugging, kissing, holding hands. We are normal human beings, we can walk, we can talk."

He also scolded South African President Thabo Mbeki on his government's failure to provide drugs, which caused the miffed president to leave during the speech. He later told the BBC:

"I feel I am going to die quickly, like my mother died, very soon. But at least she got to be a grown-up. I hate having this disease."

In December 2000 Nkosi had a relapse and remained critical until his death. On 1 June 2001 a Johnson family spokesman said that Nkosi died at 0540 local time (0340 GMT) after a desperate final battle against the disease. Ms Johnson said:

''He's given Aids a face and allowed people who are still afraid of being associated with Aids to grieve openly. Most importantly perhaps, his fight and his bravery have given hope to many, many people."

Former South African president Nelson Mandela said he was an example for the whole world to follow. Mr Mandela told reporters:

"It's a great pity that this young man has departed. He was exemplary in showing how one should handle a disaster of this nature. He was very bold about it and he touched many hearts."


Contact Gail Johnson:


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