You see them living their best lives on TV, in films and on stage.
They’re dressed in fabulous costumes, the hair and make-up are immaculate.
They bask in the media spotlight and seem to enjoy that A-lister lifestyle many only dream about.
Then years later, you learn that a star has fallen on hard times, is sick and destitute.
You wonder what happened to them, but you don’t judge, you decide instead to support a fundraiser to help cover their medical bills.
Or you hear about a singer or actor who died a pauper - and all the tributes and support come too late.
This week South Africans bade farewell to our beloved Shaleen Surtie-Richards, everyone’s favourite soapie aunty.
By every account, the veteran actress had a successful, award-winning career in film, TV and stage that spanned four decades.
She was an entertainment and cultural icon.
Sad to see her go, but what was also upsetting was how the 66-year-old struggled towards the end.
According to fellow actress Lizz Meiring, sickly Shaleen couldn't afford to get treatment.
Lizz tweeted: “Shaleen saw a doctor in CT because she was so ill. He wanted to book her into hospital immediately. She simply had no money. That's the horrible truth. If she had been paid her meagre royalties for all the rebroadcasts of her incredible body of work, she would've been able to.”
Actor Jack Devnarain replied: “Well said, thank you for following this fight! And a huge thank you to Lizz Meiring for telling the truth about the industry's darkest secret.”
Sharleen saw a doctor in CT because she was so ill. He wanted to book her into hospt immediately . She simply had no money . Thats the horrible truth . If she had been paid her meagre royalties for all the rebroadcasts of her incredible body of work, she wouldve been able to https://t.co/MaFneeWTfp— Lizz Meiring (@LizzMeiring) June 8, 2021
It was an eye-opener and a wake-up call to South Africans that we as a country are not looking after our talent.
Worse than that, we are allowing them to be exploited and stripped of their economic and human rights.
Devnarain is the chairman of the South African Guild of Actors (SAGA), which is calling for the adoption of the Performers Protection Amendment Bill by Parliament.
Under the current Performers Protection Act, artists are exposed to all sorts of exploitation. Here’s how:
– They are denied the right of collective bargaining to participate in industry negotiations.
– They are denied the right to royalties, even if the actor has had hundreds of roles in TV or film during their career. They only earn a once-off performance fee.
So after 10 or 20 years of work on a TV series or movie, an actor still cannot earn any residual income – enough to persuade banks or insurers that their earnings qualify them to become clients.
One of the aims of the bill is to have a royalty sharing policy, like in the music industry where royalties are split 50/50 between the performer and the producer.
– The lack of statutory framework gives broadcasters, like the SABC and M-Net, and film producers complete control of the actor’s economic rights, performance and image.
But before we even get into all of this, the biggest problem is the status of the performer as a “non-standard worker” isn’t even acknowledged in the Labour Relations Act and Basic Conditions of Employment Act.
This means actors can’t form unions, set minimum wages or enforce workplace safety.
Artists have to make provision for their own retirement and medical aid.
Performers are taxed a flat rate of 25% of their earnings, in addition to their agents’ commission of between 15 and 20%.
Some producers insist on deducting Pay As You Earn (PAYE), which sees the performer coughing up as much as 41% of their annual income.
If you’re a freelance performer, you are excluded from Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) benefits.
It’s an uphill battle. Then when lockdown happened, who was excluded from government relief funding?
Stack up all these odds and it’s easy to see how Shaleen, with a stellar 40-year career behind her, ended up in her desperate situation.
And it’s clear why we need to support our local performers in their fight to change the industry.
Let Shaleen’s memory be the face of that cause.