Elon Musk insists on the emerald mines he once bragged about it never exists.
But his father, Errol Musk, was only too happy to tell The Daily Beast stories of undercover arrivals, killer crocodiles and a litany of exotic diseases from the time he scored big in the gem fields of Zambia 40 years ago.
He says he survived his sojourns in the bush on a diet of rush corn meal and dried kapenta, a freshwater sardine from Lake Tanganyika.
“Elon came with us once and refused to eat for five days!” said Errol.
Such anecdotes only fuel intrigue about this chapter in the billionaire’s upbringing.
Since then, rumors have been circulating about the Musk family’s wealth an interview with Elon from 2009 The New Yorker casually mentioned an emerald mine – a fact that was repeatedly rehashed and increasingly embellished in several subsequent interviews.
The story spread like wildfire. In 2019, there was even a rumor that falsely claimed: that the Musks owned an “apartheid diamond mine.”
Later in the year, Elon began to distance himself from the emerald mine storyargues that There was no evidence that it ever existed.
“I will pay a million Dogecoin for proof of the existence of this mine!” he tweeted in April of this year.
Walter Isaacson’s new biography of the world’s richest man sheds more light on the mines. The book states that in 1986, Errol landed on an airstrip in Zambia, where a Panamanian-Italian businessman offered to buy his small plane, a Cessna Golden Eagle.
Isaacson wrote: “Instead of accepting a cash payment, Errol received a share of the emeralds produced in three small mines owned by the entrepreneur in Zambia.”
Errol explained this experience in an interview with The Daily Beast.
He said the emerald mines were in the bush near Kasaba Bay, an elite safari lodge once favored by Zambia’s top politicians.
President Kenneth Kaunda was known to make cabinet decisions there and even hosted leaders such as Zaire strongman Mobutu Sese Seko and Mozambique’s President Samora Machel.
The safari lodge at Kasaba Bay now lies abandoned, but its dirt airstrip on the shores of Lake Tanganyika can still be seen in satellite images.
“All my movements there were by air in small twin-engine planes,” Errol said.
“Airfields were a cleared grassy plain with two car headlights at the threshold and two car headlights at the other end. The landing took place at night.”
Asked if he had any concrete evidence such as photos or old documents attesting to Zambia’s emerald mines, he replied: “Trying to compare this to deals in Europe or the US is so ridiculous that I wouldn’t try.” .”It.”
“Think early Wild West, but add the jungle, wild animals (and wild people) and lots and lots of things that can kill you,” he added.
Five of Elon’s companies – Tesla, SpaceX, Neuralink, the Boring Company and X, formerly known as Twitter – did not respond to repeated requests for comment about the emerald mines.
From Rhodes to Musk
The emerald mining controversy has its roots in perceived parallels to the long history of exploitation of Africa’s natural resources by rich white men.
Cecil Rhodes – the British mining magnate whose name has become synonymous with the horrors of colonialism – began plundering through the interior of southern Africa in the late 19th century.
In 1888, his British South Africa Company claimed to have received mineral rights from the paramount chief of the Lozi people, the first such deal in the area that would later become Zambia.
The colonial rulers found emeralds as early as 1928. However, at that time they were primarily concerned with copper mining.
It wasn’t until the 1960s that gold prospectors paid more attention to the gem fields and discovered that Zambia was home to a fifth of all the world’s emeralds. Artisan miners quickly got to work.
It is difficult to find anyone from northern Zambia who could confirm Errol’s stories. Mineralogical maps and satellite images have failed to locate the mine, and long-term attempts to trace Mines Ministry officials alive in the 1980s were unsuccessful, but Errol’s anecdotes are consistent with the situation on the ground at the time, an expert said.
Economist Twivwe Siwale told The Daily Beast that she interviewed Zambian emerald miners active in the 1980s as part of her academic research.
“They said it was kind of a pick-and-shovel thing with all sorts of characters trying to get rich quick before the government came and set up a restricted area,” she said.
“Anyone could have come in and benefited from it.”
Not that it was an easy job.
Errol said: “Half of my colleagues were killed, all my colleagues got malaria, yellow fever, black water fever and more… One was eaten by a crocodile on the shore of Lake Tanganyika.”
“Can today’s stupid little Western wimps understand all this? I doubt it.”
Isaacson’s biography states that the emerald wealth dried up later in the 1980s when “the Russians created an artificial emerald in the laboratory.”
However, a more likely explanation may be that the Zambian authorities have begun to play a more active role in this sector. Kaunda’s socialist-oriented government sought to abolish private mining and gem-cutting and create a state monopoly.
Siwale’s research into the formalization of emerald mining in Zambia concluded that the government had introduced regulations in the 1980s to gain control and push private operators onto less lucrative land, forcing many miners out of business.
Months after our last conversation, Errol answered a follow-up question and said he was not impressed with Isaacson’s book. “I don’t want to comment on this shaky book. The things I know about are being misreported. That makes the whole book suspect.”
Like father, like son?
Government intervention may have dashed the senior Musk’s chances of making a fortune, but government money decades later helped boost companies like Tesla and SpaceX – more than any alleged pocket of emeralds ever would have, according to Isaacson’s biography can.
In the meantime, Elon and his father argue over how much Errol invested in his son’s first start-up, Zip2. in 1995. Isaacson claims that the emerald revenues had already disappeared by then.
The book also delves into Errol’s South African style of tough love and his strained relationship with his son. Errol the father and Errol the gem runner are largely the same man.
Some information was already publicly known, like the time Elon was pushed down the stairs and was beaten up in middle school, only for his father to scold him and side with the perpetrator when he got home. This incident stayed with Elon years later.
Errol’s stories of flying through the gem fields of the “Wild West” of northern Zambia probably don’t have much to do with how his son financed his businesses in the United States, but they might well have a lot to do with how the richest person in the world World became the man he is today.