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Young S. African AIDS activist dies

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- The boy who came to represent South Africa's struggle against the AIDS epidemic, Nkosi Johnson, has died.

The 12-year-old's foster mother, Gail Johnson, said he died peacefully in his sleep in the early hours of Friday morning.

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.

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.


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

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He collapsed in December

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AIDS AIDS: 20 years of an epidemic

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. About 10 percent of the South African population are infected with the HIV virus.

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

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