As of close of trading in New York, electric car executive and space entrepreneur Elon Musk is worth $287 billion, the equivalent of around R4.3 trillion.
Elon Musk

Musk this week saw a historic leap in his personal fortune when the share price of Tesla surged on a big order, and on Wednesday that company – where most of Musk's net worth is locked up – retained much of those gains.

Musk's wealth is most easily compared to other people who are really, really, ridiculously wealthy. Musk is now 46% wealthier than the world's second-richest man, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. He is 17% richer than the founders of Google, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, combined. He is 2.4 times wealthier than Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg. He is somewhere between 500 and 600 times richer than the queen of England.

In the context of his birth country South Africa, it is possible to get a grasp on the scale of his wealth by, again, comparing it to that of extremely wealthy people.

South Africa has five dollar billionaires: Johann Rupert and his family; fellow dynastic heir Nicky Oppenheimer; Koos Bekker, who headed Naspers' international expansion; mining magnate Patrice Motsepe; and Capitec founder Michiel le Roux. Take all their wealth, multiply it by 11, and you're getting close to the level Musk now inhabits.

But a comparison between Musk's fortune – enough to run the entire country for years – and the lives of ordinary South Africans just gets absurd.

According to the most recent national statistics, the average salary earner in South Africa (excluding agricultural workers) is paid R23,526 per month.

If such average earners stops eating – and spending money on anything else too – then they could in theory catch up to him by dint of simple hard work.

But if Musk's fortune were to be frozen right now, it would take such an average salary earner 15.2 million years to earn as much as Musk is worth.

A salary earner who saves a significant chunk of their income would catch up to Musk much faster than that thanks to compound interest – assuming Musk chooses to hide his money under his bed, where it achieves no growth.

In such a scenario, Musk would require the services of one of his SpaceX passenger ships every night. His money, neatly piled under a bed in US currency, would require him to commute into orbit to go to sleep on top of it.