Two months before she died, Riana van Deventer summoned her son Gerrit to her side. She had something important to tell him, she said.
Van Deventer, who had been diagnosed with terminal colon cancer, said that she was finally ready to divulge the family’s great secret – the identity of the father of Gerrit’s older sister Riette.
It was, she claims, Errol Musk, the father of bazillionaire Elon Musk, the man behind PayPal, Tesla and SpaceX among other companies.
Now Riette – whose married name is Nel – has set out on a quest to prove that she is the half-sister of the man who was named just last month as the second richest man in the world.
But she insists she is not after the Musk billions.
‘I don’t want anything from Errol or Elon, I just want to know what my roots are,’ Nel, 46, told DailyMail.com in an exclusive interview.
Riette Nel (left) is on a quest to prove she is the biological half-sister of billionaire and second richest person in the world, Elon Musk
Nel told DailyMail.com her late mother revealed her real father is Errol Musk (pictured in 2014) in a death bed confession to her brother when she was battling terminal colon cancer
‘I have told Errol you are welcome to have your attorneys draw up a contract which says I am not entitled to any kind of remuneration.
‘The only thing I am interested in is to know if you’re my dad.’
Nel, who now lives in Chilliwack, British Columbia, said she feels both she and her 21-year-old son Micha have a right to know.
DailyMail.com has seen email and text messages between Nel and Errol Musk.
Initially he seemed happy to take a DNA test that would settle the claim that he has a fourth daughter.
But in recent weeks he changed his mind and, Nel says, he has cut off communication with her.
Riana van Deventer (pictured) died aged 65 in October 2019. She divulged the family’s great secret to her son Gerrit before her death
Musk, 75, adamantly denies he could be Nel’s father. He told DailyMail.com that Nel had sent her a picture of her mother.
‘I told her I have never seen the person in the photograph,’ he said in an email.
Nel was born Mariette van Deventer in Ladysmith in eastern South Africa on August 8, 1975. Her birth certificate does not name a father. Her mother was 21 at the time of her birth.
Growing up, Riana told Riette that a friend named Rene was her father but she says she never believed her because she had no emotional bond with him.
‘We never felt that way towards each other,’ she said.
Later Riana confided she had gotten pregnant during a tryst at the Union Buildings – South Africa’s Parliament which sits high on a hill overlooking the capital, Pretoria.
‘They did what they did on the bonnet (hood) of his Rolls Royce,’ Nel told DailyMail.com in her strong South African accent.
‘But he was much more worried about any dents or scratches on his car than he was about caring about her.’
Errol Musk told DailyMail.com he did not own a Rolls Royce until 1981. At the time of Nel’s conception, he said he drove a Mercedes Benz 220.
Nel said her mother would often go away with a rich suitor for long weekends but she never revealed who he was.
Growing up, Riette (pictured in her youth) claimed she was told her father was a friend of her mother’s named Rene, which she said she never believed because she did not have an emotional bond with him
Nel was born Mariette van Deventer in Ladysmith in eastern South Africa on August 8, 1975. Her birth certificate does not name a father
‘All she told me was that the guy had a lot of money, he had a Rolls Royce and a yacht.
‘I believe that man was Errol because everything just fits.
‘He was the guy with the money. He was the arrogant guy, self-entitled, self-assured.
‘And he didn’t treat women the way he was supposed to.’
Riana died aged 65 in October 2019. During her talk with her son, she swore him to secrecy about Riette’s father.
‘She told me I wasn’t to tell my sister,’ Gerrit told DailyMail.com in a phone interview from South Africa.
‘She said she was sure that Elon Musk was Riette’s brother. She didn’t tell me it as an absolute fact, but she had that confidence in her voice that made me believe her immediately.’
Gerrit, 39, kept his word to his mother for more than a year but eventually in January this year he decided Riette – who had recently emigrated to Canada after her husband got a job there – should know.
And that set Nel off on a quest to prove her fatherhood.
‘Why would my mother lie to my brother? She knew she was dying, she had nothing to lose and nothing to gain from telling him,’ she said.
Elon (pictured as a baby with his father) 50, is the oldest of Errol Musk’s six acknowledged children. The father and son have long had a complicated relationship
After Errol and Elon’s mother Maye (left) divorced in 1979, the billionaire tech founder went to live with his father – a decision Errol now says he regrets
She contacted Errol, who lives a couple of hours outside of Cape Town, sending him pictures and asking if she could be his daughter.
He immediately recognized the resemblance between Riette and his family.
‘You are very beautiful,’ he wrote back in Afrikaans. ‘You have strong face features like all of us.
‘Your appearance makes me think ‘whew.’
But he said he was happily married at the time to his first wife, the model Maye Haldeman, and his daughter Tosca had just been born.
‘I didn’t have any relationships outside the marriage, but I don’t have any problem with any test,’ he wrote back.
He said he drove to Cape Town every week and could have the test there. ‘It is relatively important that you understand that I don’t run away from these things,’ Errol wrote.
But eight months after Nel first contacted him, Musk has still not taken any test and she said they are no longer corresponding.
Musk, a consulting engineer, told DailyMail.com that Nel had told him her mother was a prostitute with wealthy clients.
‘Apart from the fact that I have never met a prostitute, I was not in a ‘wealthy’ category at that stage of my practice.’
Nel insists she said no such thing.
‘She was not his prostitute, she was his mistress,’ she said.
She admitted Riana dated other well-known men in South Africa, including heavyweight boxer Pierre Coetzer, whose professional opponents included George Foreman, Riddick Bowe and Frank Bruno.
In February, Riette contacted Errol, who lives a couple of hours outside of Cape Town, sending him pictures and asking if she could be his daughter
Errol immediately recognized the resemblance between Riette and his family and asked her to send more photos
Later, in a conversation on March 25, he said he was happy to do a DNA test, adding: ‘It’s pretty important that you know I’m not someone who runs away from things’
Musk also said he would never have cheated on Maye just four months after Tosca’s birth.
‘The idea of cheating on one’s wife in those days was social anathema and unthinkable. In my case such a thing would have likely been a dance with death, or at least resulted in broken limbs or permanent brain injury!
‘Maye is not someone one cheats on, and besides I loved her dearly. At that time, we had been together since high school, which was more than ten years.
‘We had known each other since Grade 5.’ They married in 1970.
He denied cutting off correspondence with Nel.
‘I have told her there is no possibility that she is my daughter, but to be congenial I said I would consider a DNA test if I am assured of privacy, and if she would provide me with proof of identity.
‘She provided me with neither, particularly proof of identity. For all I know ‘she’ could be ten people with some sort of crazy plan wanting this very prominent family’s DNA for some nefarious purpose.’
Elon, 50, is the oldest of Errol’s six acknowledged children. He has a full-brother Kimbal, 48, and sister Tosca, 47. Errol also had two daughters Alexandra and Asha with his second wife Heide.
And DailyMail.com revealed exclusively in 2018 that Errol had fathered a son with Heide’s daughter, Jana Bezuidenhout -his own stepdaughter.
He later confirmed it, saying his son Elliott, now 4, had been conceived ‘in the heat of the moment after Jana had been thrown out by her boyfriend.
Messages from April 26 show Nel sent Errol multiple follow up messages to find a lab for the test. He finally replied days later saying: ‘I do not understand what you want’
One of his last messages to Nel read: ‘You are not related to me. Anything you publish that’s false might incur a lawsuit. You do know that.’
Errol denied cutting off correspondence with Nel, telling DailyMail.com he had considered a DNA test ‘if I am assured of privacy, and if she would provide me with proof of identity’
‘I don’t want to call it a mistake because no child wants to hear that they are a mistake,’ he said.
‘You have to understand, I’ve been single for 20 years and I’m a man who makes mistakes.’
Errol and Elon Musk have long had a complicated relationship. After Errol and Maye divorced in 1979, Elon went to live with his father – a decision he now says he regrets.
‘I felt sorry for my father because my mother had all three kids,’ he told Rolling Stone in 2017.
‘He seemed very sad and lonely by himself. So I thought, ‘I can be company.
‘But I didn’t really understand at the time what kind of person he was.’
He went on to break down in tears during the interview and call Errol ‘a terrible human being,’ adding: ‘Almost every evil thing you could possibly think of, he has done.’
‘My dad will have a carefully thought-out plan of evil,’ he added. ‘He will plan evil.’
Nel said she had written to Elon Musk – who Forbes named last month as the second richest man in the world, worth $177.4billion, behind only Amazon’s Jeff Bezos – and to Tosca and Kimbal asking if they would take DNA tests. But, she said, none replied.
Elon Musk did not respond to a request for comment.
Elon and his brother Kimbal, 48, and sister Tosca, 47, (pictured) were raised by their mother Maye
Maye Musk poses with Kimbal, Tosca on her lap, and Elon standing behind in South Africa
She believes Elon’s Musk Foundation could have pressured Errol to cut off communication with her, especially as one of his last messages was: ‘You are not related to me. Anything you publish that’s false might incur a lawsuit. You do know that.’
Musk said the family lawyers had told him he was free to proceed however he wanted in the case but said ‘proof of identity was essential beforehand.’
Both Nel and her brother say their mother never used computers or went on the Internet. She didn’t even have a smart phone.
They say there is no way she could have researched Errol Musk and come up with enough details to make up her story.
‘She wasn’t into Google or the Internet, television shows, cell phones, anything like that,’ said Nel.
‘She loved gardening and herbs and just being kind.’
Elon Musk was named the second richest man in the world just last month. Riette insists she’s not after his billions and is only interested in learning who her father is
Nel is now left to wonder if she’ll ever learn the truth about her biological father. A sample of her DNA remains at a lab in Pretoria awaiting its possible match
Gerrit van Deventer agreed. ‘She had no access to the Internet, no smart phone but she told me things about Errol Musk that she could not have known,’ he said.
Now Riette Nel is left in limbo. She is sure she finally knows who her father is but cannot prove it. A sample of her DNA is sitting in a lab in Pretoria awaiting its possible match.
She has considered taking a trip to her homeland to confront Errol. ‘I would go to South Africa in an instant and try to meet him face-to-face, but Errol will not show up,’ she told DailyMail.com.
‘I don’t want to believe it, but I have come to the conclusion that Errol Musk is someone that just cannot be trusted. I want to think he can be, but now I feel he is not to be believed.
‘I keep asking myself why doesn’t he go to get tested? If he is not my dad he has nothing to lose. But in his own words I look like a Musk and in his own words he doesn’t run away from things.
‘So go for the test. If it’s negative then I can move on and you can move on.’