By David Macgregor

Ben Dekker, a middle-aged hippie in Port St Johns, was caught with his pants down this week when a policeman spotted him and his girlfriend having afternoon sex in the shallows of a lagoon at the popular Transkei seaside village.

Lying naked on his back in the Umzimvubu lagoon with his girlfriend sitting on top of him, 59-year-old "Big Ben", who stands 2m tall in his socks, still managed a huge smile and a wave at the town's acting station commander, Sarel Venter, and his wide-eyed wife.

Venter, who was off-duty when he spotted Dekker and shapely Loretta Toon getting close to nature, rushed his wife home, drove back to the lagoon and waited for the pair to leave the water. He then arrested the couple for public indecency, but only after they had put their clothes on.

The policeman, who was transferred to the hippie haven from conservative Aliwal North three months ago, said Dekker had not been alarmed when he was confronted and arrested because he "did not see their actions as an offence".

"I was driving past the lagoon with my wife when she spotted the two in the water and alerted me. I saw Mr Dekker lying on his back in the shallow water with his naked girlfriend sitting on top of him.

"When he looked up and saw us, he just smiled and waved, without stopping what he was doing. I was shocked. Seeing two people naked in the water having sex is all new to me. You are not allowed to do what they were doing, not in the middle of the day in full view of everyone passing by."

Dekker and Toon appeared in the Port St Johns magistrate's court this week and were released on bail. The case was adjourned until January 12.

Attempts to get comment from Dekker proved fruitless and locals said he promptly disappeared into the hills after his court appearance.

Dekker, who lives in a shack on the side of a rocky cliff metres from the sea, has been making newspaper headlines periodically for more than 30 years, ever since he stood for parliament against Sir De Villiers Graaff in Rondebosch as a 28-year-old student in the 1970 general election.

Dekker was a student with long hair, Graaff a wealthy farmer and gentleman politician. That such a person could dare take on the establishment was a source of outrage to many but delight to others, especially his mates at the University of Cape Town who packed halls to hear his anti-apartheid, human rights philosophy.

Dekker's avowed aim was to "put the comedy back into politics", and that he certainly did. Having no money for offices he got himself a hawker's licence, set himself up with a barrow at the Rondebosch fountain and conducted his election campaign from there.

But Dekker seemed to have been about 30 years before his time, and despite polling a creditable 1 694 votes was crushed by the sheer might of the middle-class southern suburbs support for Graaff's United Party.

Soon after the election Dekker was effectively thrown out of the university, where he had earned a BA honours degree, when the university council refused to accept his registration as a masters student.

This caused a furore which led to protests on the campus and exposure in newspapers for days on end, but the university steadfastly refused to give reasons for its curious decision.

The sometime actor, sculptor, painter, poet and crayfish diver was in the news earlier this year when he pelted a group of fishermen in a 4x4 with rocks for driving on the beach.

He has been living in Port St Johns for 18 years, choosing a laid-back lifestyle in his shack without running water, electricity, doors or windows. But his alleged sexcapade drew angry reaction this week from locals who described him as a "lazy bum".

World-renowned for the top-quality dagga growing in the nearby hills, its pristine beaches and lush, unspoilt vegetation, Port St Johns is now trying to tap into its eco-tourism potential. The latest scandal has left businessmen scratching their heads and fearing that the negative publicity of Dekker's frolic could turn potential visitors away.

One local described Dekker as "an old fart who tries to look cool". - @Livewire