Born Xolani Nkosi on February 4, 1989, in Johannesburg, Nkosi campaigned for the equal rights of children with AIDs before he succumbed to the disease in 2001, aged 12.
He was HIV-positive from birth, and was adopted by public relations officer, Gail Johnson, from an AIDS care centre when his mother’s health began to deteriorate.
The youngster came into the public spotlight in 1997 when a Johannesburg primary school rejected him on the basis of his medical status, and was forced to reverse its decision months later.
The longest surviving child born HIV positive at the time, Nkosi’s biological mother, Nonthlanthla Daphne Nkosi, sadly succumbed to the disease the same year he started school.
In a move that would greatly help influence public perceptions of the pandemic, his foster mother organised workshops at the school to educate learners and parents about HIV/Aids.
Nkosi’s legacy in SA, and the world
Together they – Nkosi and his foster mother – formed Nkosi’s Haven, a Johannesburg based NGO which provides shelter and healthcare for families affected by the disease.
It was during this time that Nkosi would begin to speak publicly about what it is like to be a child living with AIDS.
One of his most moving talks was at the 13th International Aids Conference in 2000 in Durban, where he entranced a 10,000-strong audience as he laid bare his life with “full-blown AIDS”.
11 at the time, he said in his speech: “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.”
Their efforts led to the South African Parliament passing legislation which prohibited schools from refusing children entry based on medical grounds.
In honour of his efforts to raise awareness of the disease, the KidsRight organisation created the International Children’s Peace Prize in 2005.
Since then, the “Nkosi” statuette has been given to a young winner celebrated for promoting children’s rights.