The Urgent Queue

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Screening Details

Running Time: 29 min. (Black and White) / Copyright Date: 1958 / Commercial Release Date: 31 January 1958 / Language: English / Genre: Staged Documentary / Alternative Title: The Condemned Are Happy.


When a severe drought forces a black family from the rural Transkei to move to Port Elizabeth, they land up in the slum area of Korsten, where they have to pay an exploitative landlord for the right to build a shack on a tiny piece of ground. While the father finds a menial job in a factory, he is concerned about the education of his children and is shocked when the eldest boy is caught stealing. One day a white man turns up and tells him about a housing project in New Brighton and after a lengthy wait the family is eventually able to move into their new home.


An early film by Jamie Uys, made for the South African Information Service, today this is regarded as a propaganda piece made to illustrate the benefits of the government’s housing policy without any reference to forced removals. It is very much a film of its time, with all good things being seen to come from the benevolent white man. Particularly sobering is a newspaper headline that promises “No more slums by 1960”. The film was originally released under the title The Condemned Are Happy, until someone thought better of it and retitled it The Urgent Queue. The main role is taken by the always dignified, but uncredited Ken Gampu. The film was shown on the commercial circuit in the supporting programme for the Jamie Uys feature Die Bosvelder.

(An article in S.A. Panorama of May 1957 deals with black families being moved to new housing in New Brighton. It refers to the city’s progressive housing policies under the guidance of Councillor Adolph Schauder, ex-mayor and Chairman of the Housing Committee. He is, in fact, the “white man” who appears in the film and organises the ambitious building scheme. There is an excellent analysis of The Urgent Queue in the book “Cinema and the city: film and urban societies in a global context”, edited by Mark Shiel and Tony Fitzmaurice. Adolph Schauder was also the father of filmmaker Leon Schauder.)


Production Company: Jamie Uys Film Productions for South African Information Service / Producer & Director: Jamie Uys / Story & Screenplay: Jamie Uys / Camera: Elmo de Witt / Editor: Jamie Uys / Commentary Read: Gabriel Bayman.


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