NY Times Questions How Elon Musk Was Shaped By Childhood In Apartheid South Africa: What You Need To Know

Zinger Key Points
  • Musk declined to be interviewed for the article.
  • Musk's father was a politician with an anti-apartheid party.

The New York Times NYT took aim at Elon Musk Thursday morning with an article speculating on how his formative years in apartheid-era South Africa might frame his ability to run Twitter TWTR.

What Happened: The article, titled “Elon Musk Left a South Africa That Was Rife With Misinformation and White Privilege,” was authored by John Eligon, the Times’ Johannesburg bureau chief, with input from Times researcher Kitty Bennett. The authors said Musk did not respond to requests for input.

In the article, the Times speculated on how Musk’s “growing up as a white person under the racist apartheid system in South Africa may have shaped him.” The article detailed the oppressively racist nature of the apartheid policies in South Africa, which brutally disenfranchised and impoverished the Black majority.

“Mr. Musk, 50, grew up in the economic hub of Johannesburg, the executive capital of Pretoria and the coastal city of Durban,” the article states. “His suburban communities were largely shrouded in misinformation. Newspapers sometimes arrived on doorsteps with whole sections blacked out, and nightly news bulletins ended with the national anthem and an image of the national flag flapping as the names of white young men who were killed fighting for the government scrolled on the screen.”

Musk left South Africa when he was 17 to avoid compulsory service in the nation’s military. He immigrated to Canada and later moved to the U.S., taking out citizenship in both countries. Nonetheless, the Times’ thesis questioned if the apartheid experience left any residue on Musk’s sociopolitical spectrum.

“Mr. Musk has heralded his purchase of Twitter as a victory for free speech, having criticized the platform for removing posts and banning users,” the article continues. “It is unclear what role his childhood — coming up in a time and place in which there was hardly a free exchange of ideas and where government misinformation was used to demonize Black South Africans — may have played in that decision.”

See Also: Elon Musk Invited Before UK Parliament To Discuss Twitter Takeover

What Didn’t Happen: But despite the salacious race-baiting framing of the article, the Times wound up admitting that Musk was never influenced by the emotionally disfiguring aspects of apartheid.

His father Errol Musk, who served on the Pretoria City Council as a member of the anti-apartheid Progressive Party, told the Times his son questioned the legality and morality of apartheid from a young age, while former classmates of Musk’s recalled his defending a Black student from a slur in his multicultural school and later being among the few white attendees at the funeral for that Black student after his death in a car accident.

If anything, the Times conceded, Musk’s formative years were shaped by personal rather than political crises — the bitter divorce of his parents before he was 10, his tumultuous relationship with his father and the incessant bullying he received during high school.

The article cited a current investigation by the California state government into accusations of racial discrimination at the Tesla TSLA facility in Fremont and the $15 million awards given by a jury last year to a Black employee who accused the company of not addressing racist activities at the facility.

However, the Times failed to cite a widely-seen TikTok video with Musk stating he would not serve in South Africa’s army because “spending two years suppressing black people didn’t seem to be a great use of time.”

Photo: Steve Jurvetson / Flickr Creative Commons

Posted In: Elon MuskNew York TimesSouth AfricatwitterNewsGlobalMedia