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 obscure.
In the midst of a debate on his possible takeover of Twitter, his father, Errol Musk, told AFP that he raised his sons the hard way, like “good South African boys”, instilling in them rigor and discipline from an early age. .
“I was a strict father. My word was law”, he assures, affirming that the ambition of Elon was nourished by this education willingly a bit macho. “It was our way of being. We tried to give the best of ourselves”, confides this 76-year-old man with a chiseled face, receding hairline and steely gaze, in his house in the seaside resort 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 the unpopular military service.
After the acrimonious divorce of his parents, Elon mostly lived with his father. At the age of nine, “I saw him disembark radiant one morning at the station, he had taken a night train all alone”, after leaving his mother’s house, says Errol.
– Prankster without filter –
Elon often spoke of an unhappy childhood. And distanced himself from his father when Errol had a child in 2017 with the daughter of his ex-wife, 42 years his junior. “Elon didn’t find it good. Me, I take life as it comes”, comments the father, assuring that since this breaking point, their relationship has improved.
“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. During Sunday lunch, I said + hello dad +, he went to do his crossword puzzles”.
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 kid”, who willingly joined in the conversations of adults. “Around the age of four, he was already settling down” to listen to stories of politics and business.
“One day, Elon announced that when he grew up, he would be a millionaire,” says his father, visibly amused. To which a hilarious adult, whom he describes with a drink 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”, comments Errol Musk. “It’s his nature to tell people” their four truths, without filter.
The father also recalls a hurtful comment Elon made to one of his classmates, whose father had committed suicide. “That boy 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 got his son into the prestigious Pretoria Boys’ High School.
– “The friendliest” –
The billionaire would have donated one million rand (60,000 euros) to the school but would have insisted that in exchange, the establishment never make reference to him in its promotional material, advanced the South African press.
“It’s a non-story,” a former director told AFP. He actually gave money twice but “so much nonsense has been written about him”, annoys this gentleman who insists on his anonymity.
He dealt with Musk through his assistant. It is also via the same assistant that his father also exchanges with him.
Communication with Musk is tightly controlled – aside from his liberally tweeting. Yet Errol describes him as “the loveliest” of his children.
During the AFP interview, Errol received what he said was an email from Elon offering to pay for a recent eye operation – 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 very nice,” he says. Unbeknownst to him, Elon had invited famous friends to Cape Town, including several Hollywood actresses.
During this lunch, the subject of Donald Trump was discussed. “I then said + Yes, I support Trump +”, says Errol. “He’s a winner. Like me, Elon and (his brother) Kimbal”.