History | June 16, 2020 9:33 am

Everything to Know About Errol Musk, Elon's “Brilliant,” “Terrible” Father

Getting to the bottom of the emerald mine, his step-daughter and other myths

Errol Musk, Elon Musk's father and South African engineer
Errol Musk, father of Tesla CEO Elon Musk.
Denver Post Photo by Cyrus McCrimmon via Getty

If you dare brave the treacherous waters that surround Elon Musk on social media, sooner or later you’re going to come across the claim that his father, Errol Musk, owns an emerald mine. And that’s just the tip of the myth-making iceberg.

Despite the rabid fandom that has formed around Elon — the man behind Tesla, SpaceX, The Boring Company and other endeavors attempting to turn science-fiction into reality — his dad remains an enigma, a sort of fairy-tale creature trotted out merely as evidence of his son’s privileged upbringing. But how much truth is there in the stories? 

It’s a question that has stumped writers and reporters for years, and will apparently continue to do so as long as Elon remains a fixture in the zeitgeist. Even intrepid tech and business columnist Ashlee Vance had a hard time pinning Errol down, both as a source and as the patriarch of the Musk family, when researching for his book Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future.

“Whenever the topic of Errol arrives, members of Elon’s family clam up,” Vance wrote. “They’re in agreement that he is not a pleasant man to be around but have declined to elaborate.” When Vance reached out to Errol himself, he only responded via email. 

However, while piecing together reporting and various interviews may not offer up a holistic picture of this contentious father figure or the short family life the Musks experienced in South Africa, it does shed light on some of the lore regurgitated on Twitter.

Let’s take a look at a few of the more eyebrow-raising claims that have cropped up surrounding Mr. Musk in recent years.

Did Errol Musk own an emerald mine? 


In 2019, Elon Musk confronted the Twitter talking point about his father’s supposed emerald mine head on, writing, “He didn’t own an emerald mine & I worked my way through college, ending up ~$100k in student debt. I couldn’t even afford a 2nd PC at Zip2, so programmed at night & website only worked during day. Where is this bs coming from?”

However, Errol’s involvement in a lucrative mining operation and Elon having to pull himself up by his bootstraps are not mutually exclusive. As Vance wrote in his book Elon Musk, “The family owned one of the biggest houses in Pretoria thanks to the success of Errol’s engineering business,” a business that included “large projects such as office buildings, retail complexes, residential subdivisions, and an air force base.” Elon even admitted his father is “brilliant at engineering” despite being an overall “terrible human being.” And in an interview with Errol from 2018, British tabloid Mail on Sunday wrote, “Musk senior was a millionaire before the age of 30.” 

Elon was born on June 28, 1971, to Errol and his wife Maye Musk when they were both in their 20s. This is important because the parents divorced in 1979, nine years after getting married, and it wasn’t until the mid-1980s that the emerald mine in question came into the picture.

The details of the mine stem from stories published on Business Insider South Africa from journalist Phillip de Wet that rely on Errol Musk’s personal account. According to him, Errol became “a half owner” of an emerald mine in Zambia in the ‘80s, though he doesn’t specify a year, and he “got emeralds for the next six years.” That story was preceded by an even more unbelievable one in which he spoke of Elon and his brother Kimbal selling some of the precious stones to Tiffany & Co. on Fifth Avenue off the street.

Other than that first-hand account, there’s not much to be found to corroborate this story. But the counterpoint to the obvious fact that the Musks were well off financially, especially considering their status as a white family in apartheid South Africa, is that Elon, his siblings and Maye had to free themselves from Errol’s abusive relationship. As Maya Kosoff wrote of Maye’s recent memoir, Errol was “was physically, financially and emotionally manipulative and abusive.” When Maye extricated herself from the marriage, she remembers eating peanut butter sandwiches and bean soup, not coasting on riches from an emerald mine.

Did he murder someone in South Africa?


According to Vance’s book, Errol Musk’s family has lived in South Africa so long that they “claim an entry in Pretoria’s first phone book.” Musk is not reticent about his allegiances either, telling the Mail on Sunday, “I refuse to live [in the U.S.]. I tried it, and came back home,” even though he says his home country has more “violent crime.” 

In both the Mail and a 2017 profile of Elon in Rolling Stone, Errol confirmed that he has been involved with it himself. According to the elder Musk, he shot and killed three people who broke into his house in Johannesburg, a crime for which he was reportedly charged with manslaughter but eventually acquitted on the basis of self-defense. 

Did he father a child with his step-daughter?


In the interview with Mail on Sunday, Errol admits that he’s philanderer, saying, “I had a very pretty wife, but there were always prettier, younger girls. I really loved Maye but I screwed up.”

That became the understatement of the century when, in March of 2018, U.K. newspaper The Times reported that Musk fathered a child with his stepdaughter Jana Bezuidenhout in a move reminiscent of Woody Allen. When the story broke, Musk was 72 years old and Bezuidenhout was just 30. As MailOnline wrote in 2018, Errol described the pregnancy as an accident, but said both Jana and their son were living with him though they weren’t in a relationship.

Of course, much of the proof relayed here relies on Errol’s own personal account of the proceedings, which leads to the biggest question of all: Is he a reliable narrator? 

In his book Elon Musk, Vance recalled a piece of advice from his subject: “Elon warned me off corresponding with his father, insisting that his father’s take on past events could not be trusted.”