Angels touch lives of the sick

More than a decade after his death, the legacy of a 12-year-old boy still lingers. Nkosi Johnson, arguably South Africa’s most famous Aids activist, died on 1 June 2001, and lent his name to a haven for other mothers and children infected with HIV.

Today, Nkosi’s Haven, Nkosi’s Haven Village, Nkosi’s 4Life Farm and Nkosi’s Haven Vukani, the last with the support of the award-winning Soweto Gospel Choir, offer life-giving help where it is needed, under the guidance of the founder and director – and Nkosi’s adoptive mother – Gail Johnson.

Nkosi’s 4Life Farm, about 4.8 hectares in size, was bought by Nkosi’s Haven in 2001 to help provide food, homes and income to the non-profit organisation. The farm is in Lenteland, De Deur, about 15 kilometres north of Vereeniging on the Old Vereeniging Road. “The owner of the farm had approached me and wanted to know if we wanted a farm,” recalls Gail Johnson.

“I have always wanted and thought that the kibbutz [a communal farm settlement popular in Israel] or co-op style of living is superb and makes so much sense, particularly with the wide open spaces we have in South Africa and the absolute need to create jobs and, more importantly, food security and the lifestyle it can offer to its residents.”

Vegetables are grown on the farm for Nkosi’s Haven, and if there is a surplus, this is shared with other registered non-profit organisations that run feeding schemes. The plan is to start selling the vegetables to local market and supermarket chains as well, to help raise funds for mothers and children infected with and affected by HIV and Aids.

“It is the intention to partner with Food and Trees for Africa [the climate change, food security and greening organisation], which has visited the farm and is drawing up a memorandum of understanding to share its expertise in setting up organic vegetable producing tunnels as well as between six and eight chicken runs that will accommodate 500 chickens each,” Johnson explains.

FUND RAISING FOR THE FARM

nkosis-farm2-250Nkosi’s 4Life Farm, about 4.8 hectares in size, was bought by Nkosi’s Haven in 2001 to help provide food, homes and income to the non-profit organisation“Presently there are no mothers or children living on the farm as it has proved exceptionally difficult to raise funds to cover the costs of building cottages, erecting tunnels and the chicken runs, plus ensure adequate flow of water and electricity supply. Much is needed to refurbish the existing boreholes and install more efficient powerful pumps. The farm needs a lot.”

It is believed that the farm will help those unemployed mothers, as well as the children you have dropped out of school because of their HIV status. The farm will, it is argued, give them direction and help the youth gain the strength needed to return to school. The mothers will also be employed. “We would love to give them a chance in generating an income,” she adds.

The farm was bought with donated money at the end of 2001, after Nkosi’s death. “He had always loved the idea of a farm as well and I know he would have loved to have lived on one.”

Nkosi did much to remove the stigma associated with HIV, the virus that eventually led to his death. “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,” he said.

Nkosi is a Zulu name that is often used to mean “king”. He was born Xolani Nkosi on 4 February 1989 to Nonthlanthla Daphne Nkosi in a village near Dannhauser. He never knew his father. Nkosi was HIV-positive from birth, and was legally adopted by Gail Johnson, a Johannesburg public relations businesswoman, when his mother, debilitated by the virus, was no longer able to care for him.

SCHOOL BATTLE

nkosis-farm1-250Vegetables are grown on the farm for Nkosi’s Haven, and if there is a surplus, this is shared with other registered non-profit organisations that run feeding schemesHe first came to public attention in 1997, when Johnson battled to get him into a primary school in the Johannesburg suburb of Melville. The school had refused to accept him as a pupil because of his HIV-positive status. With the help of donations, Johnson and Nkosi founded Nkosi’s Haven orphanage on 14 April 1999 on Mitchell Street in Berea, the heart of Johannesburg’s densely populated flatland. It was named after him, in memory of his biological mother.

Nkosi became internationally recognised at just 11, when he delivered a heart-rending keynote speech at the 13th International Aids Conference in Durban in July 2000. His words brought tears to listeners, and grabbed the world’s attention. He died a year later from an Aids-related illness, but his legacy lives on. He is ranked fifth among SABC3’s Great South Africans.

Family is important at Nkosi’s Haven, which aims to help keep relatives together. It helps mothers and children, infected or not with HIV and Aids. In 2002, Nkosi’s Haven received a grant from the Gauteng department of housing, social housing, and special needs, which helped it buy and begin development on a second home, following the same concept as Nkosi’s Haven in Berea.

Nkosi’s Haven Village is situated on a one-hectare plot in the south of Johannesburg, in Alan Manor. It accommodates 31 mothers and 98 children. At present, it consists of 17 resident cottages, a sickbay, a therapy block, a library, a baby day care, workshops, classrooms for additional onsite education and skill building, a leisure room, an upgraded kitchen, a sports field, and the administrative offices.

The organisation is trying to secure more funds to build additional cottages, as well as a music and arts centre and a preschool.

CHOIR LENDS A HAND

nkosis-farm3-250The plan is to start selling the vegetables to local market and supermarket chains as well, to help raise funds (Images: Nkosi’s Haven)A highly recognised non-governmental organisation both in South Africa and internationally, thanks to the support of volunteers and sponsors who are indeed angels, Nkosi’s Haven grew even further when it came to the attention of the Soweto Gospel Choir. The multi-award-winning choir, with two Grammys to their name, was formed in November 2002.

They adopted Nkosi’s Haven as their benefiting charity in 2003 and founded their own Aids orphan foundation, Nkosi’s Haven Vukani. Vukani means “outreach”, and through it, the choir channels 50% of their profits to children affected by or infected with Aids.

Every time the Soweto Gospel Choir performs, it raises funds through collections. Nkosi’s Haven receives half of this cash. It is also used to support carefully selected organisations in townships that care for children orphaned by and those living with HIV-Aids.

To date, over 9 000 children have been fed through registered organisations supported by Vukani. Children’s school fees have been paid and school uniforms have been bought for orphans. Equipment for people running soup kitchens that ensure the children receive at least two nutritional meals a day, has been bought.

Security, electrical installations, plumbing, wheel chairs and a homework container have all been bought through the help of the Soweto Gospel Choir, which has also paid for funerals for children who have died from Aids-related illnesses.

BIRTHDAY CELEBRATIONS

At Nkosi’s Haven, on the first weekend of each month, there is a celebration for those children whose birthdays fall in that month. But more help is still needed and more people are asked to open their hearts to make a difference. As funding and donations become more difficult to get, and the need for help grows, non-profit groups have to start thinking like businesses to provide for those they assist, and Nkosi’s Haven has drawn up more ideas for action.

On 19 November 2010, for example, an art gallery was opened to create a platform for other parties willing to work with and be exposed to loyal supporters of Nkosi’s Haven. Artists are paid for the work showcased and Nkosi’s Haven receives a percentage of any sales made. Artists who would like to participate, can contact Tiny Koen on pr@nkosishaven.org.

If you want to donate clothing or shoes, you are welcome to visit Nkosi’s Haven or to contact the resident manager, Nomfundo Sonjica, on resmanager@nkosishaven.org. Gail Johnson, the founder and director, can be contacted on +27 (0) 11 942 5580; Lynn Sewell, the operations manager, can be contacted on +27 (0) 11 942 5580.