Gwala competed at the Discovery World Cup Triathlon in Cape Town in February. Photo: Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix

JOHANNESBURG – What a sick society we live in! The attack on KwaZulu-Natal Triathlete Mhlengi Gwala this week serves to confirm just how crazy a nation we have become. And unless good men and women stand up and say “Enough of these senseless attacks”, we are pretty much doomed.

As I am writing this, I am struggling to imagine Mhlengi lying in a hospital bed, his face contorted as he struggles to cope with the pain from the injuries inflicted when those crazy people tried to amputate his legs. The image I have of Mhlengi is of a happy-go-lucky guy whose face seems to always be adorned with a smile. 

Just last month we were in Cape Town for the Discovery World Cup Triathlon where the lad from Ndwedwe in KZN was competing.

The night before the race at dinner, Mhlengi was excited as he anticipated his second participation in the Cape Town event.

He and his friend Sandile Shange had missed their flight and arrived late for dinner only to be reprimanded by our host, Dipuo Tshoagong of Discovery. While Shange explained why they had missed their flight, Mhlengi simply smiled.

When he spoke, it was about how excited he was at the prospect of watching the big guns, such as Richard Murray and Henri Schoeman, in action.

The next day, done with his race, I saw Mhlengi standing on the roadside with the crowd as the elites competed - no doubt wishing to be among them next year. Such were the lofty dreams of the young man whose life could so easily have gone off the rails.

Before becoming a Triathlete, Mhlengi was on a fast road to nowhere - involved in drugs as many a kids from the villages and townships of South Africa often are.

But a near-death experience helped put him on the straight and narrow and a chance meeting with the renowned Glen Gore saw him take up Triathlon as well as become a lifesaver on the Durban beaches.

I’d met him in Durban for our interview in the build-up to the Cape Town event and was struck by how honest he was about his past and his determination to become a better man and a top Triathlete was inspiring.And then some douchebags just had to go and attack him! Athletes in this country are fast becoming targets of scumbags who have taken to attacking them during their training runs or rides.

Just last week, I read of an old man in my neighbourhood of Centurion who was attacked while on a jog on a route I regularly use. That nothing bad happened to him was thanks to some ladies who saw the attack as they drove by and honked their car horn so loud the assailant fled.

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Just now, as I am writing this, a message has come into one of our running Whatsapp group about a guy who was stabbed during his morning run and robbed of his phone.

Suddenly, the early morning run/ride has become no longer safe. Suggestions have been made for people to carry pepper-spray with them for protection.

Yet, what chance does a runner stand against gun or chainsaw wielding assailants intent on robbing him of his watch or mobile phone, if not his running shoes, or even legs ala Mhlengi. In a country where obesity is a big problem, the fact that many people have taken to running and cycling should be encouraged.

Yet, with attacks such as those on Mhlengi, they are going to be dissuaded and the challenge is on the government (sports and recreation as well as safety and security) to work together and ensure their safety.

Such sick attacks as that on Mhlengi do not have a place in our society and must be nipped in the bud before they fester.

IOL Sport

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