But Mr. Musk’s father, Errol Musk, said in an interview with The New York Times that Elon, his brother and sister were aware from a young age that there was something wrong with the apartheid system. Errol, who was elected to the Pretoria City Council in 1972, said they would ask him about the laws prohibiting Black people from patronizing restaurants, movie theaters and beaches. They had to make calculations when they were going out with nonwhite friends about what they could safely do, he said.
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“As far as being sheltered from it, that’s nonsense. They were confronted by it every day,” recalled Errol, who said he belonged to the anti-apartheid Progressive Party. He added, “They didn’t like it.”
Still, Errol offered a description of their lives that underscored how removed they were from the country’s violent reality. They got along well with Black people, he said, pointing to his children’s good relationship with their domestic staff, and he described life in South Africa during apartheid as being mostly better and safer than it is now.
According to a biography of Mr. Musk, written by Ashlee Vance, Mr. Musk said he did not want to partake in South Africa’s mandatory military service because it would have forced him to participate in the apartheid regime — and that may have contributed to his decision to leave South Africa shortly after high school graduation.
The apartheid system created a distinction among white people, specifically between those who spoke Afrikaans and those who spoke English, like Mr. Musk’s family. While political power lay with the Afrikaners — the perfecters of apartheid who descended from Dutch, German and French settlers — English-speaking white South Africans enjoyed wealth that felt to some like a birthright, Ms. Cheary said.
“We were the white, English-speaking elite of the world,” she said. “It was literally our kingdom.”
Pretoria Boys had a socially progressive undercurrent. The school’s headmaster had participated in freedom struggle activities; some students would travel to anti-apartheid gatherings.