Triathlete attacked by men with chainsaw weeks before national championship

Mhlengi Gwala underwent five hours of surgery in hopes of saving his legs. 

Mhlengi Gwala was on a bicycle ride early Tuesday morning when he was unexpectedly grabbed from his bike and dragged into nearby bushes. His assailants then began to saw into his right calf.

Mhlengi Gwala
In this photo taken June 21, 2015 and supplied by B-Active Sports, Mhlengi Gwala competes in an event in Durban, South Africa. Assailants attacked Gwala, a top athlete, Tuesday, March 6, 2018, while he was cycling to a training session and cut into his legs with a blunt saw, causing severe injures. (B-Active Sports/Jethro Snyders via AP)

On Wednesday, Mhlengi Gwala, 26, underwent a five-hour surgery in an attempt to save his legs. Gwala, a triathlete competitor who was preparing for the South African national championships later this month, was brutally attacked the day before in what authorities are calling an attempted murder.

According to the New York Post, Gwala was on a bicycle ride early Tuesday morning when he was unexpectedly grabbed from his bike and dragged into nearby bushes. His assailants then began to saw into his right calf.

“It was so intense to see what we saw,” said his training partner and friend, Sandile Shange to News24. “They had cut through his flesh, but could not cut through completely because they could not get through his bone.”

“The chainsaw wasn’t that sharp and they couldn’t get it started. So they manually started cutting,” said Shange, who detailed the story as told to him by Gwala. “Two of them held him down while the other started on his leg.” 

READ MORE: Oscar voter reveals she didn’t vote for ‘Get Out’ claiming ‘they played the race card’

“He just wanted it to stop. He handed over his iPhone and they looked at it and just threw it back at him,” said Shange, alluding that they were not interested in a robbery. “They even saw his watch and did not show interest.”

“They were not speaking in Zulu,” the local South African language. “They were speaking something else. Mhlengi thinks they may have been Nigerian,” Shange continued.

The men were just starting on the other leg, his left, when they were interrupted by a security guard with a flashlight. The men fled and the guard then took Gwala to the hospital.

The Aftermath

Gwala suffered damage to his muscle, nerves and bone. According to the NY Post, doctors are confident that they will be able to save his legs, as the attackers did not disrupt a main artery. 

“They are saying that his recovery will take quite a while,” reported Shange. “He probably won’t be able to compete in his upcoming event.”

The cause for the attack is unknown. Gwala’s friends and family are seeking answers and understanding. 

READ MORE: Prosecutor reviews charges against firefighter who spit on Black child and called him N-word at Hooters

A persona attack

“I have never heard of any enemies that he may have,” Dennis Jackson, director of the elite athlete program for the KwaZulu-Natal province told the Associated Press. “He is a wonderful ambassador for the sport.”

The brutal attackers’ lack of interest in Gwala’s cellphone, wallet, watch, and bike leaves many to speculate it was an act made out of jealousy. His family reportedly believes this to be true.

READ MORE: 16,000 sign petition to take back Kobe Bryant’s Academy Award

“It seems very strange,” said Shange to News24. “Why would these men not take anything? Why would they not speak? To us it is very strange. Mhlengi is a good man.”

“He helps the community with bringing up young kids. He is a lifeguard. He is a good person,” he continued. “He has an upcoming international competition and we feel it could be someone who does not want him to do well.”

The police have confirmed that an investigation into attempted murder is underway.