Friends & Friction | Learn to ask the right questions

Muzi Kuzwayo
Muzi Kuzwayo

When I walked into his mausoleum in Moscow, Russia, I was taken aback by how small Vladimir Lenin’s corpse was.

His prominent forehead was deep pink in colour and the nose on his emaciated face was so sharp it could stab a grown man to death.

He looked content, even though he died from the agony of a stroke.

Love him or hate him, history has been good to Lenin.

In the words of Russian writer Nikolay Chernyshevsky: “History is fond of her grandchildren, for it offers them the marrow of the bones.”

Millions of roubles plus the best embalmers have been employed to keep Lenin’s body lying in state for close to 100 years.

It is not what Lenin achieved that I find fascinating, but the question that he posed to get to the result.

He wrote a political pamphlet called What is to be done? The title was a homage to his hero, Chernyshevsky, who wrote a novel of the same name a few years earlier.

What is to be done in South Africa in the year 2020, four decades after the US R&B group the O’Jays released their soul hit The Year 2000, which forced even the party animals to think about their future?

The O’Jays sang: “What will this whole world be like in the Year 2000?/ How old do you think you’ll be?/ In the Year 2000?”

At what point do we start asking if we are entering another “wasted nine years”, to quote President Cyril Ramaphosa when he referred to life under his predecessor, Jacob Zuma?

What is to be done in this period of severe economic decline as businesses shut down and retrench employees by the thousands? How old do you think you’ll be when the recovery comes? Will you still be standing, will you be on your knees or will you be lying flat, facing east?

What is to be done about the young people whose future is being wasted by bickering old men and dishonourable miscreants who are our politicians?

How old will they be when things take a turn for the better? What is to be done to teach them that the way of the current politicians must never be followed because, even though they may be buried with much pomp and ceremony, the people will urinate on their mausoleums?

How old will they be when they unlearn the Nongqawusesque habits of these false saviours who are occupying the seats of political power?

Will they be able to take the country forward for future generations? And who will break the spell?

But, no, friends, South Africa will not fail. Nations fall and rise from time to time. It will not fail because South Africans never fail to ask the right questions. Some of them are national and others personal in nature, such as what are you doing to make things better for you, for your family and the nation?

Questions are often easy to ask. It is finding the right questions that is most difficult.

When I have an hour to solve a problem, I spend the first 30 minutes defining the problem and querying things until I get to the right question.

I then spend 15 minutes thinking about the solution, and the next 15 minutes thinking about how to communicate it.

What good is spending all of that time on something only to fail to articulate your contribution?

You are unlikely to be an expert on everything – no one is – so once you’ve framed the question, spend time finding who the experts are in that field and seek their help.

Make 2020 the year of learning rather than the year of plenty.

Yearn to perfect the art of asking questions and the art of listening, especially to those with whom you disagree.

Learn to ask “why” before you say “no” and, most importantly, ask what you are going to do make South Africa better.

Kuzwayo is the founder of Ignitive, an advertising agency

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