However, there was no stopping the robbers, one of whom was armed with a panga. Tony Densem, 28, and his mother Jean, 58, were attacked about 03:00 on Thursday at a filling station in Polokwane.
They had been in the country for just a few hours. "The bus [from Zimbabwe] had dropped us off in the Polokwane CBD," said Tony. He and his mother were in the country to apply for South African citizenship and Tony was also looking at job opportunities.
Jean became worried because they were driving further and further out of the city centre.
"The one man put his hand on my leg all the time, saying: 'Don't worry, mama, we'll get you there safely'." The Densems then asked that the driver rather take them to a filling station in Ladanna in Polokwane.
"I still bought the two petrol attendants a Coke because they'd made us feel safe," Tony said.
Two security guards also kept watch on the other side of the road.
It's then that Jean and her son were attacked. 'I fought hard to protect my mom'. She suspects it was the same men who'd been in the taxi with them. "I've never been a fighter, but I fought hard to protect my mom," Tony said. CCTV footage shows Tony and Jean wrestle with the attackers.
Tony was hit on his back with the panga as he tried to get back their money, which one of the attackers had stolen from his mother.
"It was our last money and I thought we'd probably have to walk back to Zimbabwe if I did not get it back.
"I was prepared to fight to the death to get that money back," said Tony.
In addition to cuts on his arms and back, Tony was badly bruised. Jean was also bruised when she fell during the altercation.
According to the Densems, the security guards and the petrol attendants took one look at what was going on and then fled. They did at least call an ambulance when the bloodied Tony cried out for help. Attendants fired.
The owner of the filling station, who wants to stay anonymous, confirmed the incident. "I only heard about it when they [the Densems] arrived at the filling station with the police later in the day." She said the petrol attendants, who'd done nothing to help, had been fired. Tony said Zimbabwe was not as violent as South Africa.
"There you can walk around with a million rand and no one will take a second glance. No one carries firearms.
"But here it is firearms, knives and armoured vehicles." Nevertheless, he and his mother would like to stay in South Africa, because there are better job opportunities here.
"Several people have offered me a job since the incident," said Tony. He and his mother have been staying for free at a guest house. A charge has been laid with the police.