Chainsaw-wielding assailants attempted to hack South African triathlete legs off, police said on Wednesday (Thursday NZ time), describing the unprovoked attack as a case of attempted murder.
Gwala is recovering in hospital following the attack in Durban in the early hours of Tuesday (Wednesday NZ time), and his injuries are not life threatening. Robbery appears to have been ruled out as a motive.
The 26-year-old was cycling on Tuesday at about 3.20am in Umbilo when he was dragged by three unknown men into a bush, according to police.
"One was armed with a firearm and they attempted to cut off his legs with a chainsaw.
"The suspects fled the scene when they noticed someone was coming and the victim was assisted by security guards in the vicinity," said police spokesperson Nqobile Gwala, no relation to the athlete.
"A case of attempted murder was opened at Umbilo police station for investigation."
Gwala competed at the 2017 international world triathlon grand final in Rotterdam in September in the 25-29 male category, finishing 45th.
Sandile Shange, a training partner of the triathlete, told South Africa's Eye Witness News Gwala was shaken and battling to make sense of the incident.
"The doctors say they will save his leg, but it will be a long road to recovery. He will be able to walk and run again but it will take some time," Shange said.
"He thought they wanted to rob him of his phone, his watch or the bicycle, so he offered it all to them but they did not want that. They instead dragged him to the side of the road into nearby bushes.
"They took the chainsaw, which they were not using electrically, but manually. They were cutting one foot, he was fighting and screaming, and when they got to the bone they got stuck. They tried the other leg.
"A security van then came driving down. They (the attackers) saw that and ran off, leaving him on the side of the road."
Shange added Gwala was at a loss as to the motive of his attackers. "We are a little bit confused, we don't know who is behind everything."