In a rare and unusual protest, South African women marched in Johannesburg Thursday protesting xenophobic attacks on foreign immigrants, primarily Somalis and Pakistanis, many of whom have set up shops in the shanty towns.

The demonstration was designed to serve as a response to moves by South African businessmen to close foreign-owned shops in the Ramaphosa settlement – the site of bloody anti-foreigner violence three years ago.

A group calling itself the Greater Gauteng Business Forum has intimidated foreign traders by issuing eviction notices in townships across Johannesburg. They allege that the foreigners are illegal immigrants, do not pay taxes and sell substandard goods at below-market prices.

“Our money, our South African economy is affected,” said one Forum member, according to reports. “This is not Somalia.”

In reply, BBC reported that the anti-xenophobia marchers chanted: We want the Somalis to stay.

A human rights group called Lawyers for Human Rights has demanded that police protect foreigners against the threats and intimidation.

The Pakistani and Somali shopkeepers apparently closed down their stores temporarily and stayed inside, while police patrolled the area.

The police are giving us protection, a Somali businessman told BBC.

They told me to close my shop for my own protection.”

Foreign immigration to South Africa remains an intractable problem. The number of immigrants (both legal and illegal) range from 2-million to as many as 5-million, most of whom come from other African countries.

I'll never allow foreigners to take bread from my mouth, a South African businessman told BBC. I'm a businessman who wants to make a profit.”