Elon Musk's mother reveals his South African upbringing

08 March 2018 - 11:43 By Dave Chambers
Billionaire South African Elon Musk, pictured with one of his rockets. File photo.
Billionaire South African Elon Musk, pictured with one of his rockets. File photo.
Image: Supplied

Elon Musk’s mother has revealed a rare glimpse of how a rough and tough South African upbringing helped to forge a man widely regarded as the world’s greatest inventor.

In an interview with 1843 magazine‚ 69-year-old Maye Musk reveals that she was a hands-off parent to her three children — sons Elon and Kimbal and daughter Tosca.

“In contrast to today’s tiger mothers and helicopter parents‚ Maye did not hover over her children‚ schedule their lives‚ read to them or check their homework; indeed‚ they learned to forge her signature to sign off their work. She was hands-off‚ just as her parents had been‚” writes Natasha Loder.

Led by Elon‚ the brothers created home-made rockets and explosives.

Musk was a dietician when she married engineer Errol Musk at the age of 22 in 1970‚ and Elon — who has gone on to found several businesses in the US‚ including Tesla‚ SpaceX and PayPal — was born nine months later‚ quickly followed by Kimbal and Tosca.

Loder writes: “Maye’s marriage lasted nine years. After the divorce‚ she took the children and started on her own as a single‚ working mother. Money was particularly tight. The family couldn’t afford many things‚ such as eating out and movies. Maye managed by juggling her private practice as a dietician‚ wellness talks and modelling. She cut the children’s hair‚ gave them manicures and pedicures.”

Musk tells Loder: “I wouldn’t allow them to be brats‚ I couldn’t afford that.”

The magazine reports that Musk’s business provided her three children with entrepreneurial training‚ quoting film director Tosca as saying: “It really helped us to get a sense of independence as well as understand work ethics.”

Then comes the insight into Elon’s foundational values. Says Loder: “Elon was an obsessive reader and thinker from an early age‚ so absorbed in his own world that his parents thought he might have a hearing problem and took him to the doctor.

“Drawn to computers he sold his first computer program when was 12. He struggled to make friends at school and was badly bullied. But he developed strong‚ lifelong bonds with his brother and sister which‚ to this day‚ seem to serve as a stabilising influence in his life.

“Perhaps because they lived in Africa‚ perhaps because it was a different era‚ perhaps because their parents were busy with their careers‚ the young Musks’ childhood had more than a pinch of ‘Just William’ or ‘Huckleberry Finn’ about it.

“Led by Elon‚ the brothers created home-made rockets and explosives. They raced their dirt bikes so hard that Kimbal fell into a barbed-wire fence. They walked door to door at night in a dangerous country selling Easter eggs at a scandalous mark-up: Kimbal told customers sceptical of the price‚ ‘you are doing this to support future capitalists’. They tried to start up a video arcade. Parental attention didn’t always point them in the right direction: their father took them to a casino [gambling was illegal].”

Loder also speaks to Kimbal‚ who runs a chain of restaurants‚ among other food businesses. He recalls that his teacher had a collection of different implements with which to hit pupils. “A cricket bat doesn’t hurt that much; what really hurts is the thin cane or a ruler‚” he says.