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I am basically Elon Musk, without the success.
We are the same age, have a similar heritage and had similar childhoods. The question is, why do I live in a 74 square-metre rented flat and limp from paycheque to paycheque, while Elon Musk is worth $264,6 billion?
Why did one white South African become the richest man in the world and another – well let’s not make it all about me – why did the other 4,6 million white South Africans not achieve the same?
We all come from a certain amount of privilege, and it’s only the scale of that privilege that varies.
So why have we, my fellow privileged white South Africans, been unable to parlay that privilege into a million times more privilege?
Indeed, if he could come from here and literally touch the sky, why have any of us other South African-born humans not been able to do the same? This is a question a lot of us ask ourselves every time we hear Elon Musk’s name mentioned.
Also Read: Elon Musk’s growing universe: From outer space to underground, and now Twitter too
Why him and not me?
It’s made a bit worse because it’s also possible to meet people who actually knew Elon Musk during his Pretoria Boys High days. These people often point out that he didn’t seem too different at the time. He was just like you and me.
This makes me feel even more of a failure. He was a promising, if unspectacular student, bullied as a child, and yet, within 30 years he became the most influential person on earth, powering tech innovations, electric mobility, space travel and influencing every sector he shows an interest in.
He has been called the Thomas Edison of our time, and if humanity manages to transcend its earthly origins and settle other planets, he will have played a major role in making that possible.
Okay, so how come we came from the same place and he’s going to Mars, while a trip to Gqeberha is all the adventure I can dream of?
Having spoken to people who once shared a school quadrangle with him, this is the answer I have come up with: Vision.
All they can remember that set the young Elon apart was a vision for the future, and a determination to make that happen.
“He just always wanted to go to space,” a former schoolmate said. “A lot of what he did was working towards making that happen.”
Musk left South Africa aged 17, just after finishing school, armed with this vision. When I think back to myself at that age, in the same era, I begin to see the disparity in our respective destinies.
I went to Rhodes with a plan to study journalism and perhaps get a job at a newspaper. Never mind that the dotcom boom was imminent, internet communications would eventually render print marginal, and turn every person on the planet into a content creator.
At that point, I simply did not know that. I lacked the vision.
Musk, on the other hand, dropped out of Stanford University to launch a digital start-up. His first company, Zip2, was an online city guide and directory that later sold for $307 million and provided a financial launchpad for his later forays into fintech, space, electric vehicles, energy and neurotechnology.
The difference is that I, your humble typist, am a receiver of technology, operating on legacy platforms and following established traditions.
Mr Musk, while far from being a perfect human, is a futurist. He has always had a vision. The vision has certainly evolved, but his life has served that vision.
The fact that he emerged from our country is not relevant to his trajectory. One could even say that countries are not particularly relevant to the future. Perhaps they even hold us back, if the xenophobia threatening to destroy us is anything to go by.
So no. Elon Musk is not the wealthiest man in the world because South Africans are special. He’s a visionary who could probably have come from anywhere, given a reasonable education and middle-class opportunities.
So I’m going to stop beating myself up about it. High-five to Elon, he must go kick ass. I’m going to stick to my typing and try just a little more visualising. If Elon can manifest a spaceship, maybe I can manifest a new door for my Suzuki and a beach holiday eGqeberha with my kid.
These are things that make me happy. My vision is based on legacy principles.