Don’t you dare touch me on my middle class
Motorist Clive Naidoo, whose interaction with a Joburg Metro officer went viral this week, is a great example of the sense of entitlement and bad behaviour characteristic of much of this country’s middle class.
Our public discourse is obsessed with income taxpayers – a valuable minority in a country with frightening levels of unemployment. We are the perfect neoliberal capitalist democracy that even has adverts from the SA Revenue Service thanking the middle class for making schools, social grants and roads possible through its taxes.
We stroke the ego of the middle class – one assumes to keep its members feeling good about themselves – and we do this in a country that is also violently antipoor. We speak of “taxpayers’ money” and “cost to the taxpayer” when what we really mean is income taxpayers, which excludes the poor.
We speak of paying people’s salaries, both in the public and private sectors, in a global capitalist world where money is power. So when Naidoo attempts to dismiss the officer by saying his taxes pay her salary, he’s behaving as many others do.
Furthermore, in a country where the middle class is still poor in comparison with the wealthy minority – and being in the middle class is so precarious that people are often only one pay cheque away from losing their middle class status – this soft power, of paying for things and people’s salaries, becomes particularly valuable. It allows the middle class to assert itself in a violent capitalist system in which it actually owns next to nothing. So when confronted with someone they think is beneath them, someone who won’t be bullied or “know her place”, middle class people, as Naidoo did, resort to exerting their class position as a way to assert dominance.
It emboldened Naidoo to demand that the officer, whose authority he refused to recognise, “prove” his misdemeanour to him.
He did this because he knew full well there would probably be few or no consequences. Because bad behaviour from the middle class is the norm.
And it is not even shy about how badly it can behave.
It screams at, denigrates, embarrasses, dismisses, patronises (often through the English language) the working class, and very often in full view of other people who (silently or loudly) condone its behaviour. In this way, class in South Africa continues to be the messy love child of race and capitalism.
He did this because he knew full well there would probably be few or no consequences