Southern Ambition:  from and for the South

Development aid has always been an incredibly sensitive and difficult area for NGOs to achieve success in. In an interview with Moses Karmali, the founder of Southern Ambition, we discussed the unique aspects and underlying motives of his African-rooted development aid organization. An interview by Hendrik Depenau and Sander des Tombe.

Some eight years ago, a young Moses left Uganda for South Africa to become a human rights lawyer. Studying at Cape Town University, Mr Karmali came into contact with several large western organizations that placed over 500 exchange students into their programs every semester. However, these organizations were all Western-based, resembling clear signs of parochialism and lacking a personal touch. Hence, Mr Karmali saw, and still sees, most development aid in South Africa as ‘for the people’ instead of ‘by the people’.

This made him determined to set up a genuinely ‘by the people’-organization, an organization with true African roots, which he believes has many benefits for providing development aid. Speaking the local language, for instance, is of great importance for the effectiveness of aid programs and it allows Southern Ambition to actively work with a range of local organizations that do not receive any private funding.

After two years, Southern Ambition is still considered a relatively small organization, yet they have enjoyed a couple of successes. For example, Southern Ambition was able to provide an educational grant for a South African intern from a township, thereby offering him a chance to eschew the fate of so many other youths living in townships.

Sports for success
In the discussion with mr Karmali, it becomes strikingly clear that he strongly believes that ambition can overcome a lack of experience or funding, although it will be a slow and unrewarding process at times. Fortunately, this ambition can sometimes profit from external factors, such as the FIFA World Cup of 2010. Unlike the Olympics in China, the World Cup was an event that united the football-fanatic youth in the local townships and the still racially divided country in general. As Southern Ambition advertises with a ‘multicultural experience’, Mr Karmali draws our attention to the polarized status of South Africa. Even today, popular sports are divided according to cultural heritage or even race, with cricket being for the Indian, rugby for the white and football for the black population.

During the games in 2010, a “we-feeling” emerged that briefly overpowered the strength of the division that is so prominent in this multicultural country. Thus, Moses sees sports as an integral part of the success of not only Southern Ambition, but of any development aid program.

Uniquely South African
According to Mr Karmali, the uniqueness of South Africa does not stop with the wide variety of cultures and the still prevalent racial divisions, as it is accompanied by a high level of Western life that truly distinguishes South Africa from other African countries. For example, outside the townships, one can easily find shopping malls, electricity and running water in contrary to other far more impoverished states on the African continent. Moses Karmali has aimed to offer a distinct experience of the unique townships of South Africa from the eyes of its inhabitants. The overall ambition driving his ‘by the people’-organization can be seen as the African answer to development aid criticism.

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