Handsaw attack on triathlete: ‘It was brutal and confusing’
Mhlengi Gwala's fighting spirit kept him alive
Pinned down by three men hacking away at his leg, South African triathlete Mhlengi Gwala put up such a big fight that he managed to escape in time to save his leg – and life.
His close friend and mentor, triathlete competitor Sandile Shange, who met Gwala, 26, while he was trying to kick drug addiction about eight years ago, described the 3am attack on his friend in Durban on Tuesday as “brutal and confusing”.
“Mhlengi left his Chesterville home and was riding to training. About 1.5km from his home, three guys on the side of the road, greeted him and he greeted them back.
“They asked him where he was going. He told them he was going to training. They took a gun out. He thought they wanted to rob him off his phone, watch or bicycle.“They were speaking a foreign language. Mhlengi spoke in English and told them to take whatever they wanted. They pulled him off his bike and into some bushes. They took a handsaw and tried to cut his leg. I think they were stuck on the bone. They stopped and tried the other leg.”
Shange said Gwala put up a fight and began screaming.
“He managed to get away and made it back to the road, where a private security van stopped to help him.”
Shange said he had met Gwala eight years ago at the beach where they would swim together and they went on to become lifeguards.
“He started drinking as young guys do. From there guys gave him ecstasy to try. He started enjoying it and become hooked.
“He realised it was not good. When we met, he told me he wanted to stop and change his life. He wanted to focus on something positive, so I suggested that we start training to compete in triathlons.“We managed to become successful. From there we never stopped. This attack has been a huge shock for all of us.
“The strange thing is that they didn’t take anything from him. It’s very confusing,” said Shange.
In an interview with Discovery, published on its website last month, Gwala spoke about how he used sport to kick his habit and claim his life back.
He said: “I started using drugs and ended up being hooked on ecstasy. Eventually I got hepatitis B and I was told my liver was not working. I was close to dying and had to spend time in hospital on drips.”
Following his discharge from the hospital, he stopped drinking for a while and even started swimming.
“I only drank on weekends. I loved my beer. But the problem was that there was this guy called Vuyo who beat me in swimming races every Monday, but never during the week. I realised that the drinking was affecting my swimming, and I consciously decided to start hanging around with non-drinkers. That's when I met Sandile,” he told Discovery.Dennis Jackson‚ director of the Elite Athlete Development programme – which Gwala is a part of – said: “One of the remarkable things about Mhlengi’s story, which makes him so special is that he made the decision himself that it was not the life he wanted and he decided to teach himself how to swim, train as a lifeguard and pull himself out of that lifestyle, which he has done for over a decade now.
“I met him in 2014 when he was put onto the programme and was just in awe of his success story because those type of stories often don’t turn out well.”
Jackson said Gwala was scheduled for surgery on Wednesday.
“We had some very good news overnight. The plastic surgeon said they are more than likely able to save the leg. They will be able to repair most of the damage.”
Police spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Thulani Zwane said an attempted murder case had been opened at the Umbilo police station.
“No arrests have yet been made.”