Tuesday, June 8, 2021

South Africa's TV and film industry's 'darkest secret': Why the beloved actress icon Shaleen Surtie-Richards died poor - when she didn't have to.

by Thinus Ferreira

Despite the accolades over decades and portraying iconic, only-a-first-name-needed characters like Fiela and Nenna, Shaleen Surtie-Richards (66) died poor on Monday because she didn't have the money to go to hospital.

That makes the legendary Shaleen Surtie-Richards - hugely praised in death after her passing - yet another big South African star who didn't get the money while she lived that she deserved for her success due to long-stalled legislation that would ensure that South African artists get paid the residuals owed to them from the constant rebroadcasts of their work.

The ongoing failure of the South African government to enact legislation to ensure the payment of residuals to artists for the broadcast of repeats of their work is the "industry's darkest secret" says Jack Devnarain, actor and chairperson of the South African Guild of Actors (SAGA).

Actress Lizz Meiring, a management member of the Theatre Benevolent Fund that helps to support struggling industry workers, on Tuesday said that Shaleen Surtie-Richards "saw a doctor in Cape Town because she was so ill".

"He wanted to book her into a 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 have been able to".

Shaleen Surtie-Richards - who unexpectedly died in her sleep on Monday in a guest house in Edgemead, Cape Town whilst filming a role in the Penguin Films-produced Arendsvlei telenovela for kykNET - openly spoke the past few years about her financial struggles and how she went through a period where she wasn't even able to pay for electricity and couldn't even buy food.

In 2019 in a profile interview, Shaleen Surtie-Richards told the TV magazine show Kwêla on kykNET that "I've been sitting here without a cent to my name. My house was almost sold out from under me.  I've had nothing. I've thought I need to talk about this. Last year I had no work.  There just wasn't any work," she said.

"You get paid according to the productions you do.  I'm sitting here now with millions of prizes behind my name - things that now mean absolute nothing," she said.

Why SA artists die poor
"This is why our showbiz industry's people die poor, Lizz Meiring on Tuesday told TVwithThinus.

"In the rest of the world performers and industry workers are paid what is called residuals - royalties - in the way that a musician is paid royalties when their music is played. In the rest of the world the on-screen talent and crew, the writer and the producers - when a series is broadcast for the third time - they receive a third of their original fee."

"The bill - the Performers Protection Amendment Bill (PPAB) to amend current legislation to enable residual remuneration for artists has been passed by parliament - 4 years ago already, after 10 years of fighting for it. It was accepted, it's now 4 years later and our president refuses to sign it," says Lizz Meiring.

"Think of the massive amount of work that Shaleen Surtie-Richards had done in her lifetime? If someone's work - their films, series they've starred in - is rebroadcast for a third time, they get a third of the original fee that they've earned," she explains.

"The bill is through parliament - it just needs to be signed. It doesn't just affect someone like Shaleen Surtie-Richards. It affects hundreds of thousands of people."

"Everybody knows that someone like Elize Cawood who had cancer, despite having had a medical aid, had massive medical expenses. Think of how much work Elize Cawood did in her career? Can you imagine if she had just received a third of the original fees of all of the shows she's been in? Series and films are constantly being rebroadcast."

'All we're asking for is what is fair'
"We're not the only industry struggling - a lot of people are going through extremely difficult times, for instance the hospitality sector and many others. I would like people to understand that our career is a professionally qualified, respected industry," says Lizz Meiring.

"When tickets are being sold and it's something that you want to watch, please go buy a ticket and go and see it. We're not beggars - we're not asking money for nothing. We're giving something in return. Read South African writers' books. Go watch South African films. Follow South African TV series. Go to theatre performances and understand that it's wrong to pirate content," she says.

"It would be a great thing when viewers start to ask and to tell TV channels, 'Hey, wait a minute - are you paying residuals to these people?' It's not that artists are a useless bunch of people who can't look after themselves. All we're asking is what is fair. That's all."

About Shaleen Surtie-Richards, Lizz Meiring says "she called me 'sussie' (sister). I've known her for 37 years."

"Shaleen didn't just have the talent and the heart and the honesty and such compassion for colleagues in this industry - Shaleen had that X-factor - that star quality."