11 March 2006

An image of repentance

Yesterday the news media were reporting the death of John Profumo at the age of 91. For those under the age of 50 or so, who probably won't remember it, John Profumo was the British Minister of War who was forced to resign in 1963 after the biggest political sex scandal of the 20th century. He was sleeping with a prostitute who was also sleeping with a Russian spy, and that was a big no-no in the days of the Cold War.

I remember some of the jokes that went around at the time, when rumours of the scandal first started circulating, and Profumo was denying them. "Nil combustibus Profumo -- there's no smoke without fire" was one of the wittier ones.

Unlike the present day, politicians who resigned in those days could not easily return to a political career through the back door. Profumo did not return to politics, but spent the next 40 years working among the poor in the East End of London, supported by his wife, who was willing to forgive his adultery.

In reporting his death, the news media dwelt mainly on the juicier aspects of the scandal that led to his downfall, and mentioned his good works only in passing. As Shakespeare said, "The evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones."

Nevertheless, Profumo's later life was an image of repentance, and an example that some of our present-day politicians would do well to follow. Perhaps our own ex-Deputy President, Jacob Zuma, could profit by the example, considering that the media are making as big a fuss over his sex life as they did over Profumo's.

For those who might like to know more about the more important part of his life, his work at Toynbee Hall can truly be said to be an image of repentance.

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