A veteran TV newsman’s heartfelt account of the relationship between Nkosi, a Zulu boy with AIDS, and Gail Johnson, his white South African foster mother, a woman committed to giving her doomed, beloved child the best life possible.
A public figure in South Africa since 1997, when Gail successfully campaigned to have him admitted to the local public school, Nkosi was about to deliver a keynote address to the 13th International Conference on AIDS. In the audience, the author was immediately captivated by the frail, extraordinarily charming 11-year-old. Wooten, a senior correspondent for ABC News, was no stranger to Africa and its myriad of social, political, and economic troubles when he was assigned a story on Nkosi in 2000. He eventually put together the life of Nkosi’s birth mother and her family as well as that of Gail and her husband and children, all against the background of apartheid and its aftermath in South Africa and the rising tide of AIDS, which was sweeping across the continent. In 1991, after witnessing a friend’s brother dying of AIDS, Gail established a refuge for AIDS victims in the Johannesburg suburb of Houghton, where Nkosi’s AIDS-stricken birth mother Daphne brought her two-year-old son to live. A year later, when the refuge ran out of money and was forced to close, the desperate and soon-to-die Daphne agreed to let Gail take Nkosi home and keep him as part of her own family. He lived with the Johnsons until his death in 2001. Woven into this love story between a black child and his white foster mother is the bleak tale of South Africa’s failure to deal with the massive problem of AIDS. Former president Nelson Mandela essentially ignored the problem, and current president Thabo Mbeki insists that HIV doesn’t exist, despite Wooten’s claim that South Africa now has some four million AIDS victims, with each day bringing some 1,700 new infections.
These numbers register in the brain, but the story of one valiant little boy and his remarkable foster mother goes right to the heart.