The rights of children with HIV and AIDS
The establishment of Nkosi's Haven
Johannesburg, South Africa
The impact of Nkosi & KidsRights
Nkosi was the first winner of the International Children's Peace Prize. The prize was posthumously dedicated to him in 2005 and the statuette was named after him. The 'Nkosi', a statuette of a child that sets the world in motion, is awarded annually to the winner of the International Children's Peace Prize.
Xolani Nkosi was born on 4 February 1989 in Johannesburg, South African. The name Nkosi means 'king' in Zulu, but unlike his powerful name, he was a small baby weighing only 4 pounds. His mother, 19-year-old Daphne, immediately noticed that he was different from his sister Mbabli. He had trouble drinking and had breathing difficulties. She decided to move to the capital to find work as a cleaning lady and to receive better medical care for her baby. At the time, she did not know that Nkosi was HIV-positive, just as she did not know that she herself was infected with the virus. Nkosi’s mother found out when she went to the doctor because she was not feeling well. Suddenly it also became clear why Nkosi was so sick. It was only in the late 80's then and there was still a huge taboo on HIV and AIDS, thus little was known about the disease.
What happened to her, happened to many HIV-positive women; even though she hadn’t told anyone that she was HIV positive, her employer found out. As a result, she got fired. When her landlord heard about this, he also showed her the door. In the search for a safe place for her sick Nkosi, she took him to a shelter for HIV-positive men in Johannesburg where Nkosi came into contact with Gail Johnson, one of the founders of the shelter. When Nkosi was 8 years old, his mother passed away and Gail became Nkosi's foster mother.
When Nkosi reached the age to go to school, he was not admitted because of his HIV infection. Gail was already expecting problems when she checked that Nkosi was HIV positive on the application form, but she did not want to lie about it.
"I knew there would be trouble, but I thought, rather now than in six months. There was a lot of fear and not much knowledge about AIDS. There were no guidelines for school, for parents, nothing. The parents protested, because they did not want a child with AIDS in their child’s class." Aldus Gail Johnson.
As a result of this event, Gail organized a workshop to teach both, the school and the parents, that they do not have to be afraid of a child with AIDS. Nkosi and Gail were instantly known in South Africa. They gave interviews every day for a week and Nkosi was spoken about in the Parliament. Ultimately, the court determined that schools cannot refuse children on medical grounds. It is a milestone for all children with the virus. From that moment on, Nkosi started to speak publicly about his illness. In these years there was hardly any knowledge about AIDS and HIV. Nkosi taught people what it was like to have AIDS by telling them about it.
On 9 July 2000, Nkosi spoke to tens of thousands of people at the Aids Conference in Durban. More than 60 million people worldwide watched and listened. To this day, he personifies the disease HIV / AIDS. He has given the disease a face. During his speech he asked people to treat people with AIDS as normal people. He fought for this until the day he died. Together with his adoptive mother Gail Johnson, he made sure that HIV positive children could go to school, just like all other children. He committed himself to enabling health care and medication for pregnant HIV-positive women so that the virus would not be passed on to their child.
He would have preferred to continue his actions for years to come. At the age of 12, less than a year after his impressive speech in Durban, Nkosi unfortunately lost his battle with the debilitating disease. “He would have loved to travel the world and inform people about AIDS.” – Gail
Nkosi has experienced what it is like to live separately from your own mother, he has often missed her. That’s why his dream project was founded in 1999, Nkosi’s Haven, a shelter for mothers and their children. Nkosi's Haven was established by Nkosi and Gail, who is still the director. It guarantees vulnerable mothers with HIV / AIDS and their children a safe home. Nkosi's Haven gives mothers and children the opportunity to continue their lives together, even if the mother is too ill to take care of her children.
On the day of the opening of Nkosi's Haven in 1999, Gail and Nkosi were invited to the official residence of President Mandela in Houghton, Johannesburg. "Nkosi enjoyed meeting the president," Gail says. "Madiba wrote a cheque for the Haven and gave us his book Long Walk to Freedom. He asked Nkosi what he wanted to be when he grew up. Nkosi took his time to think about it and then said he did not know. So then Mandela asked him if he would want his job. Nkosi answered immediately. “No thank you sir, it looks like too much work for me.” The president burst out laughing and has since repeated this story on numerous occasions."
Gail keeps fighting against the discrimination of people and children who are infected with HIV / AIDS. “Nkosi gave AIDS a human face in Africa, and in the rest of the world, there is no doubt about that. And he gave it a voice. The virus got the better of him. But his voice was not silenced; people still talk about him. We do his work, we talk his talk, we live his dream. I hope to continue this work in his spirit for a long time.”
“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!”
KidsRights continues to support Nkosi's commitment as a changemaker for the rights of children with HIV / AIDS. KidsRights has been supporting Nkosi's Haven since 2005.
Nkosi's Haven annually provides a safe home to over 100 vulnerable children and 25 mothers. The children receive quality education, health care, good nutrition, housing and the necessary support. Education offers children more opportunities in the future. Therefore, education receives a lot of attention in Nkosi's Haven. Not just the children, but also the mothers are being educated. This to gradually prepare them for an independent life. Workplaces are created for the mothers at for example the bakery, the launderette or the kitchen of Nkosi's Haven. In this way they develop certain skills.
Zuid-Afrika #103 KidsRights Index
With the help of the Children's Peace Prize Project Fund 2005, KidsRights has supported Nkosi's fight for the rights of children with HIV / AIDS by supporting Nkosi's Haven. Since then there has been a long-term cooperation.
Read more about Nkosi’s Haven
“Do all you can. With what you have, in the time you have, in the place you are.”