Elon Musk regularly dominates the news, but despite intense media coverage of the world’s richest man, the tech entrepreneur’s beginnings in apartheid South Africa remain unclear.
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Amid a debate over his possible Twitter takeover, his father, Errol Musk, told AFP he raised his sons the hard way, as “good South African boys,” teaching them rigor and discipline from an early age. . †
“I was a strict father. My word was law,” he assures, confirming that Elon’s ambition was fueled by this education that was willingly a little macho. “It was our way of being. We have striven to give the best of ourselves,” confides this 76-year-old man with a chiseled face, receding hairline and steely gaze, at his home in the seaside town of Langebaan, near Cape Town. “It’s kind of our trademark.”
Elon Musk was born in Pretoria on June 28, 1971, to Errol, an engineer and real estate developer, and Maye, a Canadian model. He left South Africa at the height of apartheid, like many young people of that generation, to avoid unpopular military service.
After the bitter divorce of his parents, Elon lived mainly with his father. At age nine, “I saw him disembark beaming at the station one morning, he’d taken an overnight train all by himself,” after leaving his mother’s house, Errol says.
Prankster without filter
Elon often spoke of an unhappy childhood. And distanced himself from his father when Errol had a child in 2017 with his ex-wife’s daughter forty-two years younger. “Elon didn’t approve. Me, I take life as it comes,” remarks the father, assuring that their relationship has improved since this breaking point.
“We have affection for each other,” says Errol Musk. “I always think back to how I was with my own father. He was a soldier, we spoke little. At Sunday lunch I said + hello, daddy +, he was going to do his crosswords”.
His relationship with Elon is “not that different,” he admits.
Elon Musk’s controversies and outbursts, especially on Twitter, have become routine. But Errol says his son has always been special. “He was an astute, playful child”, who liked to participate in adult conversations. “Around the age of four, he was already settling down” to listen to stories about politics and business.
“One day Elon announced that he would later become a millionaire,” says his father, visibly amused. Whereupon a hilarious adult, whom he describes with a glass and a cigarette in hand, giggled that “the little one” might be disappointed. “Elon’s response was to answer him + well I think you’re stupid +”.
“Typical Elon,” says Errol Musk. “It is his nature to tell people” their four truths, without a filter.
The father also remembers a hurtful comment Elon made to one of his classmates, whose father had committed suicide. “That kid pushed him down the stairs,” Errol says, and Elon had to be hospitalized.
After the initial anger, “when I heard what Elon said, I realized he had crossed the line”. After the incident, Errol took his son to the prestigious Pretoria Boys’ High School.
The billionaire is said to have donated a million rand ($60,000) to the school, but is said to have insisted that the establishment never refer to him in its promotional materials in return, the southern African press claimed.
“It’s a non-story,” a former director told AFP. He actually gave money twice, but “so much nonsense is written about him”, annoys this gentleman who insists on his anonymity.
He dealt with Musk through his assistant. His father also exchanges with him through the same assistant.
Communications with Musk are tightly controlled – apart from his generous tweeting. Yet Errol describes him as “the most beautiful” of his children.
During the AFP interview, Errol said he received an email from Elon offering to pay for recent eye surgery – another example of the son’s generosity, according to the father.
“Elon is very caring. He really means it when he says he wants to save humanity. It’s not a slogan’, he thinks he knows.
The last time he saw his megastar son, who now lives in Texas, was six years ago when he turned 70. “I’m a South African man, I don’t care about my birthday, but it was a lot of fun,” he says. Unbeknownst to him, Elon had invited famous friends to Cape Town, including several Hollywood actresses.
During this lunch, the topic of Donald Trump was discussed. “I then said, ‘Yes, I support Trump,'” Errol says. “He is a winner. Just like me, Elon and (his brother) Kimbal”.