Mbeki shuns funeral as thousands mourn young Aids activist Nkosi

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Thousands of South Africans paid tribute yesterday to a 12-year-old Aids activist, Nkosi Johnson, in an emotional funeral service shunned by President Thabo Mbeki and his senior ministers.

Nkosi, who was born with HIV and died a week ago, attained iconic status. Up to 5,000 people attended the service in Johannesburg, including the former Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda, Africa's leading Aids activist, who flew in specially for the ceremony.

Mr Mbeki and senior ministers shunned the funeral at which government policy on Aids came under strong attack from the Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church in southern Africa, Mvume Dandala.

"I don't care what position you take in this debate on Aids. I don't care what position you take on anti-retroviral drugs, just show this country, show these children some compassion," Mr Dandala roared in a clear reference to the government.

Mr Mbeki has caused a whirlwind of criticism by casting doubt on the causal link between HIV and Aids and questioning the use of drugs on cost and safety grounds.

His appointment of "Aids dissidents" ­ many of whom argue that the disease is caused by a combination of recreational drug use and poverty ­ to his own advisory panel on Aids has also raised concern among scientists.

Mr Mbeki yesterday chose instead to visit Johannesburg's sprawling township of Alexandra where he launched a 1.3 billion rand (£100m) renewal project to revive and modernise the slum.