An immigrant holds a knife amid clashes between locals and foreign workers in Durban Getty

Fears are growing that xenophobic violence against foreigners may spread from Durban to other South African cities in an echo of the deadly 2008 riots, after immigrants in Johannesburg received warnings that attacks against them are imminent.

An Ethiopian street vendor told News 24 he had received a message via social media warning of planned violence against immigrant communities in the city.

"Their mission is to kill every foreigner on the road please pass this to all your contacts in case they come people should be on alert [sic]," it reads.

Foreign shop owners have closed their doors in fear of an attack and there is a high police presence on the streets, reports EWN, in the wake of five days of violence in Durban that have left five dead.

The unrest has brought back memories of the 2008 riots in South Africa, which began in a Johannesburg township with deadly attacks on immigrants, and spread to Durban and Cape Town.

Immigrant businesses were torched and attacked, and 60 people were killed. In Johannesburg, a Nigerian street vendor pleaded for the government to protect immigrants.

"The president isn't saying anything. This xenophobia thing is coming back again because the government did not do what it was supposed to do in 2008. There is no security here. If anything were to happen, what will they do?" he told News 24.

In some areas of Johannesburg, unverified reports of violence are already emerging. "All the shops from Von Wielligh Street has been closed because the guys run into the shops and they start beating the people and customers that are in the shops," an eyewitness told EWN.

Earlier in April, Violence erupted in Umlazi and KwaMashu in KwaZulu-Natal province before spreading to coastal city Durban.

On 14 April, there were running battles in Durban as crowds attempted to attack foreign-owned shops and police fired tear gas to disperse them.

The unrest was triggered after Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini said in remarks to the media that foreigners should "pack their bags and go home".

Human Rights Watch has urged the South African government to condemn the comments. In a statement, it said: "Reckless and inflammatory public statements, such as those made by Zwelithini prior to the Durban violence, should be unambiguously condemned. And those who cross the line into direct incitement to violence against migrants should be prosecuted."