Abdi Mohammed, an Ethiopian textile dealer, has closed his shop in Johannesburg's central business district amid fears that ongoing xenophobic violence in the coastal city of Durban could spill over into the country's economic hub.

"We are living in extreme fear," Mohammed told The Anadolu Agency. "We don't know what will happen to us next."

He said he had seen images of people looting foreign-owned shops in townships around the country – violence he now fears could spill over into Johannesburg.

"When I heard the reports on social media, I decided to close my shop and go home," Mohammed said outside his closed shop.

South African police were heavily deployed in Johannesburg's central business district amid fears that ongoing xenophobic violence in the coastal city of Durban could spill over into the country's largest city.

Last week, mobs of South Africans descended on the homes and shops of foreign migrants in Durban, accusing them of stealing jobs, committing crimes and putting a burden on social services.

The attackers looted foreign-owned shops and homes and drove a number of migrants from their township dwellings.

Many migrants, fearing for their safety, are now being accommodated at temporary refugee camps.

Five people have died in the violence so far, including an Ethiopian man whose shop was petrol-bombed by a mob.

The attacks came shortly after Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini reportedly suggested that foreign nationals in South Africa should return to their native countries.

He has since denied making the comments, insisting that his remarks had been mistranslated.

President Jacob Zuma, who hails from the province of KwaZulu Natal, has condemned the xenophobic attacks taking place in his home province.

He has since dispatched the ministers of home affairs, police and state security to Durban to follow up on the disturbances.


Migrants run most of the shops in Johannesburg's business district, nearly three streets of which are occupied by Ethiopian textile traders.

Many shops remained closed amid rumors that the anti-foreigner violence was on the verge of spreading to South Africa's largest city.

"We are very scared," Yohani Mengistu, another Ethiopian trader, told AA.

"I don't want to be looted or attacked – that's why I didn't open my store," he said.

"We can't do business in peace anymore. The police should protect our lives and property," insisted Mengistu.

"We came here looking for a better life. We are doing honest business, but they keep attacking us," he told AA as he prepared to leave the business district.

On Thursday, trucks could be seen transporting goods from some foreign-owned businesses to unknown locations for safekeeping.

"We have to take our stock from the stores to secure warehouses in the white areas, where these people won't be able to attack," Elias Ali, a trader, told AA as he instructed workers to load merchandise onto trucks.

"I have been running my business here for over ten years," he said. "South Africa is now my home. I have nowhere else to go."

There are hundreds of thousands of African migrants living in South Africa, the majority of whom are involved in the informal business sector.

They have been the most affected by the recent disturbances, with their shops and homes often being looted whenever there are service delivery protests.

Seven years ago, more than 50 African migrants were killed across the country when mobs of angry South Africans attacked them.

According to experts, the attacks were motivated by xenophobia.


Shops were also closed in Johannesburg's Mayfair suburb, popularly known as "Little Mogadishu" due to its large Somali population.

"When we heard these shops in the Johannesburg business district were closed, we, too, decided to close ours," Abdi Omar, a Somali businessman, told AA.

Many residents did not send their children to school, preferring to remain indoors all day.

"We are now living at the mercy of Allah [God]," Ali Mohamed Ali, a 40-year-old father of three, told AA.

"The police cannot protect us if mobs strike our neighborhood," he said.

Ali said he would send his family back to his native Somalia while he sold off his property in South Africa before joining them.

"There is no option but to return home. This place [South Africa] has become a living hell for us," he told AA.

"I left Somalia to seek safety in South Africa, but instead I have got more threats," Ali lamented as his youngest child held his legs playfully.

Abdi Halane Hirsi, Somalia's cultural attaché in Pretoria, told AA Wednesday that the embassy would facilitate the repatriation of Somalis affected by the recent violence in South Africa – if they were willing to return home.

Zimbabwean street barbers, too, failed to turn up on the streets for work this week.

The usually-busy streets of the city now appear deserted, while there is tension and fear among most foreign nationals.

"I will go back to Zimbabwe until these tensions settle down," Blessing Mazibuko told AA.

But a group of Congolese hawkers in the suburb of Rosettenville, located 5km south of Johannesburg, had different plans.

"We're a bit scared, but that won't protect us," Kofi Kobele told AA.

"We're going to regroup and fight back," he said, raising his fist in the air. "Why should we just fold our arms and wait to be killed?"

He asserted that fighting back would serve to deter xenophobic attackers.

"Criminals, too, are taking advantage of the situation," said Kobele. "If you don't strike back, they'll rob you."