Nkosi Johnson was born Xolani Nkosi to an HIV positive mother in a township on the east rand. When his mother became too ill to take care of him, she gave him up for adoption. He was adopted by Johannesburg public relations officer Gail Johnson. She changed his name to Nkosi Johnson. Johnson was thrust into the media when a primary school in Johannesburg refused to admit him as a pupil because of his HIV status. The incident also marked the beginning of his HIV/AIDS activism.
He lived an active life and took treatment to slow down the effects of the virus. His mother died the same year he started school. He and his foster mother founded a refuge for HIV mothers and children in Johannesburg, aptly named Nkosi’s Haven. Nkosi gave talks about the disease both locally and abroad. In the 13th International Aids Conference, Johnson was a key speaker. He succumbed to the virus on 1 June 2001. At the time of his death, he was the longest-surviving child born with HIV in South Africa. He was honoured posthumously with the International Children’s Peace Prize in 2005.