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Mandela honours AIDS child activist

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Former South African President Nelson Mandela has paid tribute to a child AIDS activist for his struggle against the pandemic.

Nkosi Johnson's foster mother, Gail Johnson, said the 12-year-old died peacefully in his sleep at home in a Johannesburg suburb in the early hours of Friday morning.

"It's a great pity that this young man has departed. He was exemplary in showing how one should handle a disaster of this nature," Mandela told reporters at his home in the capital, Reuters reported.

"He was very bold about it and he touched many hearts," added Mandela, who last year praised Johnson as an icon of the struggle against AIDS.

During his short life, Nkosi became one of South Africa's youngest and most well-known AIDS activists, with his fight to be allowed to attend school with healthy children his own age drawing a spotlight to society's treatment of people with the disease.

Nkosi petitioned the nation's parliament, prompting lawmakers to enact new legislation forbidding discrimination against people with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.


CNN's Charlayne Hunter-Gault: His message looms large

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He collapsed in December

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Nkosi: The public face of AIDS
AIDS AIDS: 20 years of an epidemic


Nkosi, who was born HIV-positive, became internationally famous with a speech at the 13th International AIDS conference in Durban last year asking people not to shun those with the disease.

Gail Johnson took him into her Johannesburg home after he was taken from his mother -- who had the virus -- when he was two, said CNN Johannesburg bureau chief Charlayne Hunter-Gault.

Hunter-Gault said he had become a symbol for the nation, receiving thousands of visitors in his final months despite being very weak.

Nkosi collapsed in December with AIDS-related brain damage and viral infections and Johnson said he had been unable to eat solid food for several months.

In February Nkosi was joined by friends, family and celebrities in marking his 12th birthday, a day many thought he would never see.

Well-wishers included a representative for South African President Thabo Mbeki. Four million South Africans -- about 10 percent of the population -- are infected with the HIV virus, a figure that is expected to almost double within the next decade.

Mandela added: "We are faced with a serious pandemic which has taken away many of our people. We are all doing our best to solve this situation."

• AIDS Foundation of South Africa
• World Health Organisation: HIV/AIDS

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