Johannesburg - The usually busy Kerk Street in downtown Joburg came to a standstill on Wednesday when businesses shut down in the wake of rumoured xenophobic attacks in other parts of the CBD, including Berea and Hillbrow.
Street traders packed their stock in boxes and plastic bags, ready to take off if there was an attack.
Big name stores left nothing to chance, and closed shop. A notice saying “Closed due to xenophobic strike” was put up in one of the shops.
Gonzalo Tamba, a Cameroonian who has been a street trader in Joburg for 15 years, said he feared for his life.
“We are scared and disappointed that South Africans think of us as animals that must be hunted down and killed. On Wednesday night, some people were attacked in Hillbrow, and we fear they will come to us.
“I’m a foreigner, I can’t get a job from the government even if I’m qualified, because the government gives preference to South Africans. I must do what I have to to survive, but sometimes I feel like going home and suffering there.”
Gracinda Mindo, from Mozambique, makes a living selling vegetables and has been doing so for 17 years. She said life in her country was tough due to lack of jobs, and she was not willing to go back.
Mindo said she hoped the attacks would soon die down.
“This is not a new thing… it happened in 2008. My family advised me to come home, but my life is here. My kids were born here and go to school here. I cannot run away.”
As many foreign traders were ready to flee, Felix Chijikoe Attha, a Nigerian, took a radical approach.
“We’re not scared of anyone. Once in a while these things happen. I will not run away. I am a man and I’m ready to defend myself against anyone who wants to threaten my livelihood. I will not call what is happening xenophobia. What is happening is criminal, people are taking advantage, hiding behind xenophobia.”
Chijikoe’s compatriot, Nnaemekao Onugu, echoed his sentiments: “We guys from Nigeria are ready to put up a fight. Everybody here fears for their lives, but it will not help us to run away.”
Sindi Dlamini, who runs a salon in the open air, next door to Chijikoe and Onugu, also fears for her life. “These people don’t ask if you are from South Africa or not, they just attack everyone.”
Mozambican Zelda Mavuia, who sells fruit and vegetables, lambasted South Africans for being lazy. “South Africans just want to sit around. I’m not taking anyone’s job, I created a job for myself.”