He was fashioned from wood, in Italian author Carlo Collodi’s tale, by the loving hands of Geppetto, a lonely wood-carver who longed to have a son of his own.

Whenever he lied, his nose would grow and his crickety companion Jiminy would be his conscience in Walt Disney’s adaptions of this story originally told in 1883.

As a child, I loved the adventures of Pinnochio. And now that I have my own children we laugh at his antics, and are filled with fear as they transform into donkeys because of their laziness or greed.

I do not know if this was Collodi’s intention, but it seems to me, at the heart of this story is a moral message: be honest, work hard for what you want, take responsibility.

This is a good message.

One which seamlessly integrates with the values which have nestled in my being as I live in relationship.

The catastrophic consequences overwhelming poor Pinnochio whenever he attempts to side-step these values seem to me to be true as well – dishonesty, greed and selfishness have always destroyed me whenever I gave my life to them.

Perhaps it is just me and Pinnochio who suffer this consequence?

Perhaps, in the world we find ourselves, it is different – dishonesty, greed and selfishness being rewarded, even becoming indicators of success.

Tonight, after a full & busy day, we setlle around a warm fire, enjoying fruity red wine and the kind of conversation you only get where friends are together.

We speak about many things. Debt Ceilings. Stock market prices. The still struggling global economy. A consciousness that we are living in a changing world, a growing global discontent with the fruits produced by capitalism, industrialization and democracy.

Africa is not isolated. We know what is happening in the America’s, Europe and the East. We’re affected by it and perhaps what happens on this rich, diverse & beautiful continent is not so different from that which is written down as history in the rest of the world.

Across the border in Zimbabwe, a country with a literacy rate of approximately 90%, democracy has failed, capitalism has crashed & poverty, hunger and desperation has taken their place, much like wheat takes the place of seed on a sown land.

The USA claims a 97% adult literacy rate, yet a government study showed that 21% to 23% of adult Americans were not “able to locate information in text”, could not “make low-level inferences using printed materials”, and were unable to “integrate easily identifiable pieces of information.”

It seems our noses are growing all over the world as Jiminy’s voice is silenced.

As we were sitting around the warm fire, drinking red wine & each other’s ideas, a single word started flashing in my mind.


The word has its origins in the Greek concept ‘integritas’, meaning ‘whole’. It implies honesty, fairness, ethics, and moral character. It is a belief system without faltering, no matter how dangerous it is or how unpopular it is with others. It includes sincerity, keeping one’s word and agreements, honesty, truthfulness, ethics, fairness and justice.

It is grown in individual ‘wholeness’.

Perhaps it is not capitalism, industrialization & democracy failing those humans who live inside these sociopolitical systems?

Perhaps it is us, failing ourselves as ‘integrity’ has been lost?

In a new South Africa, rid of a political ethnically driven apartheid, a new kind of segregation has taken shape.

An economic one.

And it is nowhere more visible than in education.

We have our private schools where the old wealthy & the new wealthy send their children for expensive quality education. Separating & insulating their children from the effects & realities of the world which have been created.

We have government schools – desperate for resources, buildings screaming for basic maintenance & disappointed teachers without the desire to even try to educate.

Then we have something else.

They call them ‘section-21 schools’.

These schools are located in neighborhoods reserved for white people in apartheid times. They have large well maintained buildings & opulent resources. Well kept sports-fields. Media centres. Libraries. And a student teacher ratio limited to 25 children per teacher (in the run of the mill government school that ratio sky-rockets to an unmanageable 50 students per teacher).

These schools are fed by children with middle-class and upper-middle class parents. Of all races & ethnic backgrounds.

Ethnicity prevents no one entrance.

Economics do.

Parents paying, on average R1500 per month per child, enabling an illusion for themselves and their children.

The buildings belong to the government’s education department. They are maintained & developed by the parents.

The government pays the salaries of a fixed amount of staff – calculated on the acceptable teacher child ratio of 50 to 1. The school fees subsidise the rest of the staff.

It is convenient to create this illusion.

It enables the old middle class & the new middle class to insulate themselves from reality.

A few kilometres down the road, children arrive for school and they have no books to work in or pencils to write with. They have no toilets for basic human dignity. They come hungry & leave hungry. For food and learning.

They will be the future.

A lost future.

They will progress through 12 years of ‘education’ and come out on the other side with nothing more than disappointment.

They will lack the basic skills of reading & writing, comprehension & arithmetic.

They will be inadequately equipped to find their way in a new technological economy.

They will be doomed to a life of survival.

Living from day-to-day.

Not knowing where tomorrow’s food would come from.

So numbed by life that they do not even realize that there could be something more.

Where is the ‘integrity’, the ‘wholeness’ in this?

People living their selfish lives, greedily looking after themselves & their own’s present & future, as if the rest of the society they live in & what happens there has no and will have no effect on their own future?

It said as Che Guevara conquered villages and towns in Cuba he went to great lengths to see to it that each village and town had a good school & adequate medical care.

Today the shortage of medical doctors in South Africa is answered by skilled professionals from Cuba.

Guevara died when he was as old as I am now.

He changed the future for good.

Not only in Cuba.

He had ‘integrity’.

The ‘West’ could not see that.

The ‘West’ still cannot see that.

Instead we reward & idolize dishonesty, greed & selfishness – setting as our own goals obscene opulence & wasteful consumption.

As I go to bed, I am overwhelmed by a sense of disappointment.

How can this be our reality?

How can this be our future?

How can we be complacent with this individualistic, narrow-minded view on life and being?

Our nose has grown too long. Our ears have changed into donkey’s ears. We are standing in front of the fire with a tummy full of flour.

And we think it is good.

And Jiminy has been crushed under our fat feet.


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Just click this link to take a look: Theunis Pienaar in Amzaon.


9 thoughts on “Pinocchio

  1. So waar, so raak!!!! Ons twee is in vir ‘n hewige gesels as ek September OosKaap toe kom!!! Ons is ‘n Artikel 21 skool waarheen “no pay” kinders gestuur word vir beter opvoeding en omstandighede, kinders kry elke pouse kos, kry al die voorregte wat ander kry, maar subsideer die WKOD huller – NEE!!!!!! Hou aan kerm daar’s nader skole, maak nie saak wat die arme goedjies daar sien of beleef nie!!! En by Okkie Smuts kry hulle struktuur, dissipline, liefde in oorvloed, maar WKOD sê NEE vir subsidies!!! Die gevolg – die personeel wat deur SBL betaal word, doen dIt vir “die liefde van die saak”!!! Maar dit bly ‘n vreugde as hulle soggens vir hulle drukkies kom!!!!!! DIT WAS MY DOEL OP AARDE!!!!!!

  2. it would be great to be able to disagree with your blog posting and relegate you and your opinions to the irrelevancy bin … but it is impossible to do so.
    perhaps to add a reflection: .. for me the word integrity also has “integrate” linked to it (at least in my mind it has) … “… to make into a whole by bringing all parts together; to unify”
    in South Africa we reject the concept of “apartheid” (at least verbally, constitutionally, and in principle) but we see the solution to be segregation, exclusivity, elitism and separate development.
    the old apartheid system had it legislated and justified it with theology – the new system has it practiced and justifies it politically.
    both equally diabolical to my mind.
    … and are we aware that a staggeringly high percentage of abused children grow up to be active perpetrators of abuse themselves?
    a chilling bit of trivia if ever there was one

    • and it is simple to relegate our responsibilty, saying ‘it is their responsibility’ while we suck from the system what we can to our own current, temporal and selfish benefit, without a moments concern for the effect in days to come. I see this in our little bit of world amongst south africans of diverse ethnic and economic backgrounds … the hour is late, I think.

      PS: perhaps my opinion have already been relegated to the irrelevancy bin …

  3. Excellent post Theunis! The reality of education in our country is a huge concern to me. Children who are being lost to a hopeless future can not change the system and should not be written off because the adults around them cant come up with viable solutions. I belive there are viable solutions – getting a team together to create those solutions, well now, therein lies the rub 😦

  4. Sometimes seems like the world is a lake of problems and we only have a small cup with which to drink them. This I know ‘He knows’, He whispers what we can do while the world screams loud around us.

    ‘I only do what I see the Father doing’, that’s our work. We are His answer but by His grace we are not the only answer. Our small cup is His to be filled and then poured out as He wills.

    Love this blog, book marking now!


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