Errol Musk claims to have raised Elon Musk and his brother in austerity, instilling in them “rigor and discipline.”
Elon Musk knows how to dominate the news, but despite the intense media attention that the richest man in the world arouses, the beginnings of the entrepreneur in apartheid South Africa are still obscure.
In the middle of the debate about a possible purchase of Twitter, his father Errol Musk explains to AFP that he educated his sons Elon and Kimbal in austerity, like good “South African boys”, instilling in them from a young age the rigor and discipline he learned in the army.
“I was a strict father. My word was law,” he says, assuring that Elon’s ambition was fueled by this education with a deliberately macho touch.
“It was our way of being. We strive to give the best of ourselves,” confides this 76-year-old man with a weathered face, a clear forehead and a steely gaze in his home in the coastal town of Lanbebaan, near Cape Town.
“It’s a bit of our brand,” he adds.
Elon Musk was born in Pretoria on June 28, 1971, the son of this engineer and real estate developer and Maye, a Canadian model.
Like many other young people of his generation, he would end up leaving South Africa to avoid military service at the height of apartheid.
Before leaving the country, he grew up mainly with his father after his parents’ divorce. At the age of nine, “I saw him come down from the station radiant one morning, he had taken a night train by himself” after leaving his mother’s house, Errol explains.
Elon has often spoken of a sad childhood. And she distanced herself from his father when he had a son in 2017 with the daughter of his ex-wife, 42 years younger.
“This didn’t seem right to Elon. I take life as it comes,” explains the father, assuring that after this breaking point, their relationship has improved.
“We have affection for each other,” says Errol Musk.“I always think about how he was with my own father. He was a military man, we spoke little. At Sunday lunch, I would say ‘good morning dad’ and he would go do his crossword puzzles.”
Her relationship with Elon “isn’t that different,” she acknowledges.
The controversies of the Tesla and SpaceX businessman, especially on Twitter, have become routine. But Errol says that his son was always peculiar.
“He was a cunning and reckless young man,” who butted into adult conversations. “When he was four years old he was already” listening to stories about politics and business.
“One day, Elon announced that when he grew up, he would be a millionaire,” recalls his father. Laughing, with a glass and a cigarette in his hand, an adult replied that “the little one” could be disappointed.
“Elon’s reaction was to say, ‘Wow! I think you’re stupid,'” he continues. “Typical Elon,” he says. “It’s in his nature to tell people” the truth, without filter.
The parent also recalls a hurtful comment Elon made to a classmate whose father had committed suicide. “The boy threw him down the stairs” and Elon had to be hospitalized, he says.
After the initial anger, “when I heard what Elon had said to him, I realized that he had crossed the limits.” After the incident, Errol enrolled her son in the prestigious Pretoria Boys’ School.
The South African press assured that the tycoon donated one million rands (60,000 euros, 64,000 dollars) to the center in exchange for never referring to him in their promotional material.
“It’s a non-story,” a former director told AFP. Indeed, he donated money twice to the college, but “so much nonsense has been written about this issue,” says this man that he prefers to remain anonymous.
His dealings with Elon Musk were done through his assistant. It is the same method that the entrepreneur uses with his father Errol.
Communication with Musk is tightly controlled, with the exception of Twitter, where he expresses himself generously . However, Errol describes him as “the kindest” of his sons.
During the interview with AFP, the father assures that he has received an email from Elon proposing to pay for a recent eye operation, another example of his son’s generosity, according to him.
“Elon is very thoughtful. He really means it when he says he wants to save humanity. It’s not a catchphrase,” he says.
The last time she saw her famous son, who currently lives in Texas, was six years ago, for his 70th birthday.
“I’m a South African man, I don’t care about my birthday, but it was very nice,” he says. Unbeknownst to him, Elon invited famous friends, including several Hollywood actresses, to Cape Town.
During that meal they talked about Donald Trump. “So I said, ‘Yeah, I support Trump,'” Errol recalls. “He’s a winner. Like me, Elon and Kimbal,” his other son.