President Ramaphosa has failed Shaleen Surtie-Richards and many others in the industry - Jack Devnarain
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Johannesburg - Jack Devnarain doesn’t mince his words when asked about what life is like as an actor in South Africa.
“I feel exploited and under-appreciated,” says Devnarain.
“The fact that our industry remains unregulated speaks volumes.
“There is no counterbalance to exploitation.”
While this is not the first time that the Isidingo star has opened up about his disgruntlement towards the treatment of actors in the country, the chairman of the SA Guild of Actors is particularly keen to point it out again following the death of iconic performer Shaleen Surtie-Richards last week.
Media reports have suggested that the legendary actress could not book herself into a hospital due to resource constraints.
With actors being forced to work in an unregulated environment, and are not protected under any labour legislation, coupled with the fact that they do not receive royalties for their work, Devnarain says it is hardly a surprise that many actors in the country die without a penny to their name.
“We have lost many iconic performers like her (Surtie-Richards) under similar tragic circumstances.
“Lindiwe Ndlovu, Sam Phillips, Afzal Khan and Elize Cawood are only a few recent examples.”
“Despite Shaleen’s extensive body of work in film and TV, she could not earn a residual income from the continuous exploitation of her work.”
“We believe she, and every South African actor, deserves this basic remunerative right.”
For years Devnarain and other actors in the industry have been fighting for better working conditions and labour protection.
However, their voices have often gone unheard, with government still dragging their heels in signing the Performers’ Protection Amendment Bill (PPAB).
The signing of the bill into law would ensure that South African performers are paid residuals for the rebroadcast of their work on TV.
“Actors work in an unregulated environment, which allows producers and broadcasters to impose unfair working conditions that favour themselves.
“Actors work under freelance contracts, but we are not party to negotiating the terms of those contracts.
“We are given no other choice but to take it or leave it.
“We are not protected under any labour legislation including Basic Conditions or Labour Relations.
“We are not permitted rights to organise under unions or to engage in collective bargaining.
“There is no royalty right so even after a 40-year career, we still cannot earn from the exploitation of our work even though our work continues to generate revenue for producers and broadcasters.”
The delay in signing the bill is also holding back actors from earning royalty rights, something that Devnarain doesn’t see happening any time soon.
“The entire legislative process to introduce industry reforms is being held up by Parliament.
“This means we are still years away from meaningful transformation of our sector and years away from actor royalties even if the government will support it.”
He says actors urgently need empowering legislation to protect themselves.
“Through this mechanism, we can begin a process of inclusive negotiation that allows voices from the entire value chain of the creative industry to be heard.
“So actors, technical crew, writers, broadcasters, producers and many others can be allocated a seat at a representative forum for transparent self-regulation.
“We need Parliament to sign off on the Copyright Amendment Bill and Performers Protection Amendment Bill so that actors can earn fair royalties for the exploitation of their work.”
While actors have battled for years for better working conditions and labour protection, Devnarain says their struggles have intensified over the last year since the country went into lockdown.
“As freelancers, we could not claim Covid relief funding through regular channels.
“Actors could not work and theatre performers are still impacted with the closure of some of the country’s finest independent theatres.
“Most actors had to resort to charitable contributions to sustain themselves as we do not earn a fixed monthly salary and we did not qualify for TERS provided by the Department of Employment and Labour.
“In an unregulated industry, there are no structures to protect actors in such times of crisis.”
Despite being a well-known, the Isidingo star himself has struggled for work during the pandemic.
“This has been a time of terrible loss, fear, anxiety and despair.
“The uncertainty of tomorrow’s work sits like a noose around my neck and it gets tighter day by day.”
He said while the Department of Sports, Arts and Culture offered relief funding during the lockdown, the process turned out to be flawed.
“They offered relief funding administered by the National Arts Council, the NFVF and other agencies.
“For many, the process was a nightmare of botched payments riddled with allegations of nepotism, conflicts of interest and maladministration.”
Devnarain added that President Cyril Ramaphosa’s recent decision to allocate a 2.8% increase to the salary packages of Members of Parliament from 400 people who are earning over R1 million a year, was also a kick in the face to all actors in the country.
“The president tried to persuade us that members of Parliament, who earn over a million rand a year, often fail to make ends meet.
“He seems to be fighting the cause of people who can hardly be described as vulnerable.
“It indicates to actors that privileged MPs are comfortable living off taxpayers’ money, while we wonder which iconic actor may be next to receive the president’s ”deepest sympathies“ on Twitter.”