"He tried offering them his cellphone and money, but they pinned him down and tried to saw off his leg", said his athletic sponsor Sue de la Porte, via News 24.
A South African Police Service spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Thulani Zwani said: "A case of attempted murder was opened at Umbilo police station on Wednesday". They instead dragged him to the side of the road into nearby bushes.
Gwala, who was set to compete in the South African national championships this month, was undergoing a five-hour surgery for his injuries, said Dennis Jackson, director of the elite athlete program for the KwaZulu-Natal province.
"When he spoke to doctors they said they will be able to save his leg and he will be able to walk and run again but it is a long walk to recovery", Shange said.More news: Walmart starts selling meal kits
There was no immediate explanation for the grisly attack. They tried the other leg.
"I have never heard of any enemies that he may have", said Jackson, via AP. "He is a wonderful ambassador for the sport". It's unclear what may have motivated the criminals to commit such a heinous attack.
"It seems very odd", he told News24.
Jackson said the attackers also started sawing into Gwala's left leg before fleeing, enabling the athlete to crawl to a road and flag down a passing vehicle to take him to a hospital.
Several attackers pulled Gwala off his bicycle as he cycled up a steep hill and sawed into his right calf, damaging muscle, nerves and bone, according to Jackson, who spoke by phone to the triathlete about the ordeal.