Eight-year-old Tamika van As recently took the Cape by storm when she won a gold medal at the National Figure Skating Championship in the juvenile competitive section at Forest Hill City in Centurion, Gauteng.
The grade three learner is the youngest of 36 solo skaters at the Black Panthers Ice Skating Club in Cape Town. When she started ice skating in 2017 she was handed two badges, representing two levels, pre-beginners and beginners, on her first day of attendance.
Her father, Graham van As, proudly says there are skaters aged 16 and 17 who have only three or four badges.
Tamika’s dream is “to be a figure-skating coach” but before reaching that long-term goal, she wants to compete in the Olympics.
“Everything she touches she wants to do her best,” says her father, who is a table-tennis coach in Bonteheuwel. “It is not just skating: she has a lot of talents. Her table tennis is just as good, while her next step is football.”
Qualities to be a good figure skater include balance and muscle strength. With little effort, Tamika has both and looks forward to competing in the Western Cape Championships that will be held later this year.
But this is where the fairy tale ends.
Young Tamika is one of the thousands of children living in fear on the gang-and-crime-riddled Cape Flats. Bonteheuwel is 10km away from the Grand West Ice Station.
Living in Bonteheuwel makes it difficult for Tamika to exercise outside her house because shooting between rival gangs happens regularly.
“I cannot take her on an early-morning run to exercise: it is too dangerous,” says her mother, Tarren.
She recalls a shooting incident during which Tamika ran to stand against a wall.
Three months ago a series of shootings on the Cape Flats led to additional law-enforcement officers being sent to crime-riddled areas in Cape Town.
In less than a week, 14 people, including two on-duty police officers, were killed, and 10 people were seriously injured.
In February, two teenagers were shot dead and three were seriously injured in Beacon Valley, Mitchells Plain. And four men between the ages of 30 and 64 were killed, also in Mitchells Plain.
During a weekend in March, two police officers were shot and killed in Kraaifontein in the early hours of the morning. The same morning later saw two men killed and two seriously injured in Thubelisha, Delft.
“We pray for our safety going to and driving back from the rink,” says Tarren.
At the ice rink, Tamika is aware of where she comes from because of the stigma attached to the Cape Flats. People pass comments such as “Bonteheuwel is crazy” or “it is where all the bad things happen,” her mother says.
Perhaps the biggest challenge that may limit Tamika reaching her full potential is the financial requirements needed for a sport such as figure skating.
Her parents’ financial position allows Tamika to practice for only two hours a week. It is the lowest time bracket offered at the rink and includes four half-hour lessons weekly, with one lesson costing R250. “That is besides all the other materials” adds Tarren.
“Due to financial burdens, we can’t give her extra time. She must practice much more but we can’t afford it. Other children [at the ice rink] do homeschooling and skate the whole day,” says Graham.
They hope to get a sponsor who could financially support her.
What Tamika’s parents might lack in finance, they limitlessly provide in support. “We motivate her to be disciplined and dedicated to her sport and school work.
“We tell her every day how important education is.”
Tarren doesn’t want her child to become part of the guns and stone-throwing culture and hopes that Tamika doing well in figure skating “can be a motivation for other children”.