South Africa

Elon Musk opens up about childhood in South Africa

Elon Musk debunked speculation that he was born into prosperity and benefitted from his father owning a stake in a Zambian emerald mine.

Musk is one of the world’s best-known entrepreneurs and businesspeople and, according to Bloomberg’s Billionaire Index, boasts a net worth of $169 billion.

He was always in the public eye as Tesla’s largest shareholder and CEO, especially after he became the richest man on earth in 2021.

His profile lifted even more after buying Twitter last year, and he started to play a big role in running the company.

He is an active participant on the social media platform, with over 3,600 Twitter posts since the start of the year.

Recently, there have been reports that Musk benefitted from a rich household, partly fuelled by his father’s share in a Zambian emerald mine.

In 2018, Business Insider reported that Musk’s family once owned an emerald mine in Zambia which helped to fund a “lavish lifestyle of yachts, skiing holidays, and expensive computers”.

His father, Errol, claimed it was that lifestyle that turned Elon into a merchant adventurer who broke the rules to create Tesla and go on to change spaceflight with SpaceX.

Musk debunked this and subsequent reports, saying he grew up in a lower, transitioning to an upper, middle-income situation, but did not have a happy childhood.

Musk was regularly bullied at school and explained that most of his youth was punctuated with extreme violence from “maybe 6 to 16-ish”.

“I’ve been in real hard-core street fights,” Musk said. “I got beaten up really badly in a few of them, actually. I grew up in South Africa. It’s a very violent place.”

Musk’s father told BizNews in 2015 that Bryanston High bullies had injured Elon so severely that he did not recognise his own son as he lay in hospital.

He spent two weeks in Sandton Clinic, and neither the school nor the police were interested in taking the matter further.

He moved to Pretoria Boys High School after this incident, where he completed his matric. Musk attended the University of Pretoria for five months before leaving South Africa for Canada.

Elon Musk said that being bullied in South Africa probably helped motivate him to achieve success in life.

Tesla, SpaceX, and Twitter CEO Elon Musk

Commenting on reports of benefitting from family wealth, he said he hadn’t inherited anything ever from anyone, nor had anyone given him a large financial gift.

“My father created a small electrical and 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.”

“Our condition of providing him financial support was that he does not engage in bad behaviour. Unfortunately, he nonetheless did,” Musk said.

“There are young children involved, so we continued to provide financial support for their well-being.”

Musk gave his father credit for teaching him the fundamentals of physics, engineering and construction, which is more valuable than money.

However, Errol did not support Elon financially after high school in any meaningful way.

Maye Musk
Maye Musk

Musk’s mother, Maye Musk, added that when they moved to Toronto in 1989, they stayed in a one-bedroom apartment until they found a rent-controlled apartment. “We all worked, were happy and optimistic,” she said.

Musk also dismissed the reports that his family part-owned an emerald mine in Zambia which made them rich.

“Regarding the so-called emerald mine, there is no objective evidence whatsoever that this mine ever existed,” Musk said.

He said his dad told him he owned a share in a mine in Zambia, and he believed him for a while. However, nobody has ever seen the mine, nor are there any records of its existence.

“If this mine was real, he would not require financial support from my brother and me,” Musk said.

His mother also dismissed it as speculation, saying the first she heard of an emerald mine was on Twitter about ten years ago.


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