Big lie about Elon Musk’s South African childhood

Pretoria-born billionaire tech executive Elon Musk has denied that his fortunes and success were built on profits from an emerald mine partially owned by his father, Errol Musk.

Elon Musk is currently the world’s second-richest man — with majority ownership in electric vehicle company Tesla, private space rocket company SpaceX, and social media platform Twitter, among other ventures.

According to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, Musk had a net worth of roughly $169 billion (R3.1 trillion) as of 8 May 2023.

His path to success has naturally received enormous attention in recent years.

Reports going as far back as 2009 claimed that Elon’s South African family had owned a share in an emerald mine in Zambia, which had made them very wealthy.

Since then, several publications, including reputable ones, have retold the story.

In its article, News24 reported Errol Musk’s remarkable story of how he landed the opportunity to buy half an emerald mine from a group of Italians while on a trip to Zambia.

He claimed the family received emeralds for the next six years and that he hired a cutter in Johannesburg to sell them while on business trips.

Errol said this money paid for Elon’s move to Canada, and later to the US.

He also said he would send money made from the emerald sales to Elon and his brother Kimbal for living expenses.

Elon and Kimbal Musk
Elon and Kimbal Musk

But in a Twitter post on Sunday, 7 May 2023, Musk said there was “no objective evidence whatsoever” confirming the mine ever existed.

“He [Errol] told me that he owned a share in a mine in Zambia, and I believed him for a while, but nobody has ever seen the mine, nor are there any records of its existence,” Musk said.

Elon had previously also spoken about the mine in an interview with Forbes, but this story has since been removed from the Internet.

“If this mine were real, he would not require financial support from my brother and me,” Elon stated.

“[I] haven’t inherited anything ever from anyone, nor has anyone given me a large financial gift.”

Musk said he did not have a happy childhood and described his family’s early financial situation as middle class — “lower, transitioning to upper”.

“My father created a small electrical/mechanical engineering company that was successful for 20 to 30 years, but it fell on hard times,” he said.

“He has been essentially bankrupt for about 25 years, requiring financial support from my brother and me.”

Elon gave his father credit for teaching him the fundamentals of physics, engineering and construction, which the billionaire regards as more valuable than money.

But Elon said his father provided no meaningful financial support after high school.

Elon Musk (second from left in second row) in his last year of high school — Pretoria Boys High School Form 5B photo via Evan ZS6ELI

Elon also previously slammed reports in which his father was quoted as saying he had a “privileged upbringing and education”.

“This is a pretty awful lie. I left South Africa by myself when I was 17 with just a backpack and suitcase of books,” he said.

“[I] worked on my Mom’s cousin’s farm in Saskatchewan and a lumber mill in Vancouver.”

After that, Musk attended Queens University and the University of Pennsylvania, Wharton Business School and Stanford, paying with a combination of scholarships and debt.

Musk recently also offered one million Dogecoin (R1.37 million) to anyone who could prove that his family owned a share in the mine.

In an interview with the US version of tabloid publication The Sun, Errol said he wondered if he could enter the competition because he could prove it existed.

“Elon knows it’s true. All the kids know about it,” he said. “Elon saw them [the emeralds] at our house,” he added. “He knew I was selling them.”

“I visited the mine once, Elon came with me. It was lousy. There was nothing to eat except stamp mielies [ground dried corn]”.

Elon and Errol have an acrimonious relationship, with the billionaire calling his father a “terrible human being” and “evil” in an interview with Rolling Stone.

Following his divorce from Elon’s mother — Maye — in 1979, he was married to Heide Bezuidenhout for 18 years.

Some years later, he ended up in a romantic relationship with his much younger stepdaughter — Jana Bezuidenhout — with whom he had two children.

Elon said his and his brother’s condition for continuing to provide financial support to Errol was that he did not engage in bad behaviour.

“Unfortunately, he nonetheless did,” Elon said. “[But] there are young children involved, so we continued to provide financial support for their well-being.”

The R1 million Boys High story

Elon Musk in Bryanston High School’s chess A team

Another disputed story from Musk’s childhood is the oft-retold tale of how he was bullied at Pretoria Boys’ High School.

Although it is accurate that Musk was bullied at school, Musk’s father said it wasn’t at Boys High, but at Bryanston High.

Errol told Biznews his son was so severely hurt after the Bryanston High attack that he could not recognise him.

Elon had to stay in a hospital in Sandton for two weeks to recover. He was moved to Pretoria Boys High, where he completed his school years from grade 10 to matric.

Reports about Musk’s bullying also stated that Musk agreed to make a once-off R1 million donation to Boys High on the condition that the school never contact him again.

However, former Pretoria Boys High headmaster Bill Schroder contradicted this version of events in a 2018 letter to BizNews.

He said Musk had donated to the school several times, suggesting the billionaire had a wholly different experience than was described in the stories.

“It is true that Elon Musk did, at my request, give a donation for R1 million,” Schroder wrote.

“What is not true is that he disliked the country or the school so intensely that he told me not to approach him again. I, in fact, did, and he sent a second donation per that request.”

Schroder said he lost direct contact with Musk as his companies grew, and the school had to start working through teams of communications representatives who handled donations.

Musk matriculated from Boys High at 17, with distinctions in physical science and computer science.

He apparently left South Africa for Canada to avoid conscription in the South African army and pursue opportunities abroad.

He would go on to found and sell city guide software company Zip2 and online bank, which got merged into PayPal.

The proceeds from his sales went towards investments in SpaceX, Tesla, and Solar City in the following years.

Now read: Elon Musk’s Starlink now available in South Africa — but there is a catch

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Big lie about Elon Musk’s South African childhood