By Alec Hogg
South Africans love claiming Elon Musk as one of our own. The billionaire entrepreneur has achieved incredible success in the US and was recently described by the Financial Times of London as “Silicon Valley’s most driven entrepreneur since Steve Jobs”. And as with Jobs, there’s now a semi-authorised biography on Musk that’s become a must-read.
I downloaded Ashlee Vance’s book over the weekend and have been riveted. But soon discovered Musk’s story puts the spotlight on SA’s dysfunctional schooling system, particularly his alma mater Bryanston High.
A late developer physically, the geeky Musk was a bit of a “space cadet” who dreamt of other worlds. Not fitting in resulted in him being mercilessly bullied by a gang of schoolboy thugs. One brutal incident involved the future billionaire being kicked in the head while sitting at the top of some stairs – and beaten so badly when he hit the bottom he needed reconstructive surgery.
Soon after that incident Musk relocated to Pretoria High where he told Vance that discipline was better and the bullying less. But he holds few fond memories of growing up in SA, which he left as soon as he could, boarding a plane for Canada at 17. The Pretoria school discovered as much when it asked for a donation towards a new stadium. Musk duly sent R1m – on the proviso the school agree to never contact him again.
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