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Nkosi Johnson
Nkosi gives his speech at the Aids conference in Durban
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The BBC's Alan Little reports from Johannesburg
"Nkosi Johnson's courage first shamed then inspired this whole country"
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Saturday, 9 June, 2001, 15:27 GMT 16:27 UK
Funeral for child Aids icon
Pallbearers lower Nkosi's coffin into the grave
Nkosi Johnson's coffin is lowered into his grave
South Africans have been paying tribute to 12-year-old Nkosi Johnson, the boy who forced his country to recognise the tragedy of Aids among children.

Nkosi's funeral on Saturday, eight days after he died of the disease, attracted more than 1,000 mourners to Johannesburg's central Methodist church, where his body lay in a white coffin.


There cannot be a South African who has not been touched by little Nkosi

The Star newspaper
He became a symbol of South Africa's profound Aids crisis when he addressed the World Aids Conference in Durban last July.

The service included hymns in English, Zulu and Xhosa inside the church, while outside hundreds of Aids activists waved placards demanding better treatment for the millions of Africans suffering from the disease.

Nkosi's maternal grandmother Ruth Khumalo thanked his white foster mother Gail Johnson for adopting the two-year-old orphan when his mother died of Aids.

Foster mother Gail Johnson
Gail Johnson paid tribute with flowers
"Today is the end of the journey," she said.

Addressing the mourners, Gail Johnson said: "Nkosi taught me unconditional love and acceptance. I ask South Africans to do the same."

The congregation included many Aids activists, entertainers and politicians.

Among them was Zambia's former president Kenneth Kaunda, but neither South African President Mbeki nor any of his senior ministers was present.

Government under fire

Government policy on Aids came under strong attack from the presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church in southern Africa, Mvume Dandala, during the funeral service.

"I don't care what position you take in this debate on Aids. I don't care what position you take on anti-retroviral drugs. Just show this country, show these children some compassion," he demanded.

Nkosi Johnson at the Durban AIDS conference, July 2000
Nkosi spoke at the World Aids conference
The service, filled with songs and praise for Nkosi, went on for nearly three hours.

At a memorial service on Wednesday pastor Jonas Khauore, who works with young children in Soweto, said: "I believe that God has used Nkosi to make people aware of the Aids epidemic... Through his talks and boldness he could influence the decision makers."

Perhaps more than anyone else, Nkosi became the public face of the fight against Aids which is devastating much of Africa.

Former South African President Nelson Mandela praised Nkosi as "exemplary in showing how one should handle a disaster of this nature".


We are normal human beings, we can walk, we can talk

Nkosi Johnson
He is just one of 2.5 million Africans expected to die from Aids-related illnesses this year alone.

The Star newspaper in Johannesburg wrote: "There cannot be a South African who has not been touched by little Nkosi.

"But all around us are so many Nkosis, and because this is the natural way of things, they are forgotten."

'Dying country'

An estimated 200 children are born HIV-positive in South Africa every day, and there are believed to be 300,000 Aids orphans. There are fears that number could reach two million by the end of the decade.

BBC Johannesburg correspondent Allan Little said that Nkosi had succeeded in shaking South Africa, where one in nine people are HIV positive, out of a state of deep denial.

"You can't get Aids by hugging, kissing, holding hands. We are normal human beings, we can walk, we can talk," Nkosi told delegates in Durban.

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See also:

01 Jun 01 | Africa
South African Aids icon dies
23 Apr 01 | Africa
Aids boy's robbery ordeal
04 Feb 01 | Africa
Aids boy too ill for birthday
14 Jan 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
Words of hope from child Aids victim
19 Oct 00 | From Our Own Correspondent
South Africa's untouchables
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