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Does this photo show Elon Musk as a child during apartheid? No, child too young and a girl

IN SHORT: After a brief tweet war between billionaire Elon Musk and South African politician Julius Malema, a photo of a white woman and child with a kneeling black woman appeared on social media with the claim the child is Musk. But this is not true.

A photo is circulating on social media with the claim it shows tech billionaire Elon Musk, said to be the richest man in the world, as a child in apartheid-era South Africa.

Musk is the chief executive of car maker Tesla and owns Twitter, which he renamed X in July 2023. He was born in South Africa in 1971, leaving for Canada in 1988, before reportedly moving to the US in 1992.

In the photo, a white woman sits in an armchair with a child on her lap. Next to them a black woman kneels unsmiling on the floor. South Africans will recognise the black woman’s dress as the uniform typically worn by domestic workers in the country.

The photo has been posted on Facebook (here and here), Twitter (here, here, here, here and here) and blogs (here) with various captions, all along similar lines. These include:

  • This is @elonmusk and his mother next to an oppressed black mother in South Africa during 1988, today he lies on twitter that there is genocide in South Africa.
  • This is Elon musk and his parent. They had a black women helper. Who was not allowed to seat on their sofas … Elon musk is a racist white man like his parents.

The claim began circulating in late July 2023 after a public spat between Musk and Julius Malema, leader of the South African political party the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF).

At the EFF’s 10th anniversary celebrations on 30 July, Malema sang the controversial anti-apartheid struggle song Dubul’ ibhunu (“Kill – or shoot – the boer”).

Musk responded with a tweet: “They are openly pushing for genocide of white people in South Africa.” 

Malema tweeted back: “O bolela masepa.” This means “you are talking shit” in Malema’s home language, Sepedi.

The long process of ending apartheid’s legal system of racial segregation began in 1990. In 1994, South Africa held its first democratic elections.

Musk’s ties to apartheid South Africa and the degree to which he and his family may have benefitted from being white is a frequent topic of debate on social media platforms and in the mainstream media

But does the photo really show Musk as a child in 1988?

MuskPhoto_False

‘Mother, Daughter and Maid’

As Musk was born in 1971, he would have been 17 in 1988. The child in the photo is much younger than that.

A Google reverse image search quickly reveals that while the photo was shot in 1988, it’s not of Musk.

It was taken by US portrait photographer Rosalind Solomon and is titled Mother, Daughter and Maid, Johannesburg, South Africa.

Solomon has not identified the people in the photo. But the child is not Musk, and is, according to the title of the photo at least, a girl.

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