- Dec 11, 2019
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.
Over the years there have been whispers that Elon grew up privileged because of his father’s big emerald mine. The Space X billionaire squashed those rumours in a 2019 tweet where he clarified that he worked his own way through college. He also said that the rumours were “BS”.
“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 & the website only worked during the day. Where is this bs coming from?”
They were not completely unfounded though because according to TheFamousPeople.com, Errol did own a few shares in an emerald mine in Zambia. Most of his money came from being an engineering consultant and a real-estate developer.