A Twitter user claimed in December 2019 that Elon Musk's “privileged upbringing” included his father, Errol Musk, “who owned an emerald mine [and] who could bankroll his education.” However, the Tesla CEO begged to differ.
“He didn’t own an emerald mine, and I worked my way through college, ending up [around] $100,000 in student debt,” Elon tweeted. “I couldn’t even afford a second [computer] at [web software company] Zip2, so [I] programmed at night and the website only worked during the day. Where is this B.S. coming from?”
In a February 2018 interview with Business Insider South Africa, Musk's father said he did own half share in an emerald mine in Zambia. Here’s his story.
Errol Musk said he bought half of an emerald mine after selling a plane.
In the interview, Musk's father explained that he bought his share of the emerald mine after selling a plane to a group of Italians.
“We went to this guy’s prefab, and he opened his safe, and there [were] just stacks of money, and he paid me out £80,000, It was a huge amount of money,” he said.
And that’s when Musk's father was offered half an emerald mine in return for half of his earnings.
“I said, ‘Oh, all right’. So I became a half owner of the mine, and we got emeralds for the next six years.”
Elon and his brother sold emeralds to Tiffany & Co., Errol said.
When the Tesla CEO was around 16 years old, he and his brother Kimbal sold two emeralds to Tiffany & Co. on Fifth Avenue in New York City while Errol snoozed, according to what Musk's father told Business Insider South Africa. He said, “They just walked into Tiffany’s and said, ‘Do you want to buy some emeralds?’ And they sold two emeralds: one was for $800, and I think the other one was for $1,200. … It was kind of weird for them to walk into Tiffany’s. They’d seen I was sleeping in one morning, and they said, ‘Oh let’s just try, let’s go.’”
Musk's father said that Tiffany’s set the $800 emerald in a ring and offered it for $24,000, which he said was an object lesson in retail markup for the family.
However, $800 was probably pocket change for the family, judging by what Musk's father told the site. “We were very wealthy. We had so much money at times we couldn’t even close our safe,” he explained, adding that they would need one person to hold the money in place and another to close the safe door. “And then there’d still be all these notes sticking out, and we’d sort of pull them out and put them in our pockets.”
Elon called Errol a “terrible human being.”
In a 2017 Rolling Stone cover story, the Tesla CEO described his childhood and revealed that he moved in with his father at eight years old after his parents split.
“I felt sorry for my father, because my mother had all three kids. He seemed very sad and lonely by himself. So I thought, ‘I can be company.’ Yeah, I was sad for my father. But I didn’t really understand at the time what kind of person he was. It was not a good idea.”
Although Musk said that his father was “brilliant at engineering” in the Rolling Stone interview, that’s where the praise ended.
“He was such a terrible human being,” Musk told the magazine. “You have no idea. My dad will have a carefully thought-out plan of evil. He will plan evil. … My dad was not physically violent with me. He was only physically violent when I was very young.”
He also said, “You have no idea about how bad. Almost every crime you can possibly think of, he has done. Almost every evil thing you could possibly think of, he has done. It’s so terrible, you can’t believe it.”
In an email to Rolling Stone, Musk's father said he “smacked” the Tesla CEO only once and “on the bottom.” He also said that the only criminal charges that had been filed against him — from when he killed three home invaders in self-defense — had been cleared.