Nkosi Johnson

Nkosi Johnson (born Xolani Nkosi; (1989-02-04)4 February 1989 – (2001-06-01)1 June 2001) was a South African child with HIV and AIDS who greatly influenced public perceptions of the pandemic and its effects before his death at the age of 12. He was ranked fifth amongst SABC3's Great South Africans.[1] At the time of his death, he was the longest-surviving child born HIV-positive in South Africa.[2]

Nkosi Johnson
Nkosi Johnson.png
Xolani Nkosi

(1989-02-04)4 February 1989
Died1 June 2001(2001-06-01) (aged 12)
Johannesburg, South Africa
NationalitySouth African
Known forHIV and AIDS awareness
HonoursInternational Children's Peace Prize (posthumous)


Nkosi was born to Nonthlanthla Daphne Nkosi in a village near Dannhauser in 1989.[3] He never knew his father. Nkosi was HIV-positive from birth, and was legally adopted by Gail Johnson, a Johannesburg Public Relations practitioner, when his own mother, debilitated by the disease, was no longer able to care for him.[4]

The young Nkosi Johnson first came to public attention in 1997, when a primary school in the Johannesburg suburb of Melville refused to accept him as a pupil because of his HIV-positive status. The incident caused a furore at the highest political level – South Africa's Constitution forbids discrimination on the grounds of medical status – and the school later reversed its decision.

Nkosi's birth mother died of HIV/AIDS in the same year that he started school. His own condition steadily worsened over the years, although, with the help of antiretroviral medication and treatment, he was able to lead a fairly active life at school and at home.

Nkosi was the keynote speaker at the 13th International AIDS Conference, where he encouraged people with HIV/AIDS to be open about the disease and to seek equal treatment. Nkosi finished his speech with the words:[5]

"Care for us and accept us – we are all human beings. We are normal. We have hands. We have feet. We can walk, we can talk, we have needs just like everyone else – don't be afraid of us – we are all the same!"

Nelson Mandela referred to Nkosi as an "icon of the struggle for life."[6]

Together with his adoptive mother, Nkosi founded a refuge for HIV positive mothers and their children, Nkosi's Haven, in Johannesburg.[2] In November 2005, Gail represented Nkosi when he posthumously received the International Children's Peace Prize from the hands of Mikhail Gorbachev.[7] Nkosi's Haven received a prize of US $100,000 from the KidsRights Foundation.

In late 2000, after returning from a trip abroad to the United States, Johnson began feeling unwell. Soon after Christmas that year he collapsed. Diagnosed with brain damage, he had several seizures and became comatose. He died on 1 June 2001.[8] Nkosi is buried at the Westpark Cemetery in Johannesburg.


  • Nkosi's life is the subject of the book We Are All the Same by Jim Wooten.[9]
  • Poet M. K. Asante dedicated his 2005 book Beautiful. And Ugly Too to Nkosi. The book also features a poem entitled "The Spirit of Nkosi Johnson."[10]
  • A song titled "Do All You Can" subtitled Nkosi's song was recorded by the spiritual musical group Devotion.
  • Nkosi's words are the inspiration of the song "We Are All the Same" written by NALEDi in June 2001. This song was recorded and released on her 2003 album In The Rain.
  • The head office of CAFCASS at the Department for Education and Skills (Sanctuary Buildings), London has a meeting room named after Johnson.
  • Stellenbosch University has a residence named after him at their Medical Campus in Tygerberg.
  • The award statuette received by the winner of the International Children's Peace Prize is named Nkosi after him.[11]
  • On 4 February, 2020, Google celebrated Johnson with a doodle in his honor on what would have been his 31st birthday.[12]


  1. ^ "The 10 Greatest South Africans of all time". BizCommunity. 27 September 2004. Retrieved 3 June 2008.
  2. ^ a b About Nkosi Archived 24 August 2007 at the Wayback Machine at Nkosi's Haven Archived 10 May 2008 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved on 2008-06-03.
  3. ^ "One Boy's Heroism in the Face of Aids" NPR.org [Retrieved 27 March 2013]
  4. ^ Braid, Mary (2 June 2001). "Nkosi Johnson dies as he lived, a symbol of the tragedy of Aids". The Independent. Retrieved 3 June 2008.
  5. ^ Nkosi's Speech Archived 22 August 2007 at the Wayback Machine at Nkosi's Haven Archived 10 May 2008 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved on 2008-06-03.
  6. ^ "Profile: Mandela's magic touch". BBC. 28 August 2001. Retrieved 4 June 2008.
  7. ^ 2005 Infosheet International Children's Peace Prize
  8. ^ "Nkosi Johnson's History - Nkosi's Haven". Retrieved 30 September 2020.
  9. ^ Wooten, Jim (2005). We Are All the Same: A Story of a Boy's Courage and a Mother's Love. Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0-14-303599-2.
  10. ^ Asante, Jr., M.K. (2005). Beautiful. And Ugly Too. Africa World Press. ISBN 978-1-59221-422-8.
  11. ^ "The International Children's Peace Prize". KidsRights. Retrieved 28 April 2021.
  12. ^ "Celebrating Nkosi Johnson". google.com. 4 February 2020. Archived from the original on 4 February 2020.

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