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Manhunt launched for South African triathlete's attackers

Mhlengi Gwala Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix

The South African Police Service on Wednesday initiated a manhunt to find the three men who allegedly attacked triathlete Mhlengi Gwala with a handsaw on Tuesday.

Gwala, who has since undergone surgery to repair the damage inflicted on his legs, was dragged off the road by the trio whilst on a training ride in Durban, and the assailants attempted to cut off his legs with the blunt saw.

Gwala was found by a private security vehicle and taken to hospital for surgery. Police spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Thulani Zwane confirmed the alleged assailants will be charged with attempted murder, but added: "No arrests have yet been made."

As for a motive, that remains unknown, though Gwala's training partner Sandile Shange felt it was not robbery, telling the BBC: "He thought they were coming to rob him, stopped and gave them his phone but they didn't want his phone, didn't want his watch or bicycle."

Gwala's sponsor Sue de la Porte agreed, as quoted by EWN: "We know the motive was not robbery. He has his bag which is at home. He has a good bag, a good watch and cellphone."

There was good news regarding Gwala's prognosis though, according to Dennis Jackson‚ director of the Elite Athlete Development programme that Gwala is a member of. Jackson was quoted on TimesLIVE: "The plastic surgeon said they are more than likely able to save the leg. They will be able to repair most of the damage.

"They [the attackers] missed the main artery‚ which is great. The [doctors] should [be able to] save the leg. It will be rehab from there onwards. He did lose a lot of blood‚ but thankfully he got help."

Meanwhile, South Africans took the story to heart and started a crowdfunding campaign to help Gwala with his medical bills, and by Thursday morning had raised over R300,000 ($25,000 approx), nearly triple the original target.

JP Valverde, who started the 'Get Mhlengi back on his bike' campaign on the BackABuddy website, which is similar to GoFundMe, told Eye Witness News that he had spoken to Gwala before his surgery on Wednesday to tell him about the fundraising effort.

Valverde, who knows the athlete through a sponsorship deal with online training site My Program Generator, said: "We know Mhlengi through our programme and the local competitions he's entered in the past. We're also helping to coach him through his triathlon training.

"He is obviously in a lot of pain but sounded positive before going into surgery."

Gwala had been scheduled to compete in the South African triathlon championships later this month in Bloemfontein.