South Africa is one of Africa's major powers in political and economic terms. 1994 saw the end of the apartheid regime and the election of Nelson Mandela as President of the Republic. This presented South Africa with particular challenges relating to its 'transformation' - from minority to democratic rule, dealing with a fractured society and the unchecked marginalisation of the majority black population. In April 2004, South Africa celebrated 10 years of democracy and the inauguration of the re-elected President Mbeki. President Mbeki heads the African National Congress (ANC), which has been South Africa's leading political party since its transformation.
Since 1994, South Africa has made significant progress internally taking steps to tackle the substantial economic inequality that remains between the minority white and majority black populations via its 'Black Empowerment' strategy. For South Africa, however, HIV/AIDS represents one of its greatest challenges. By 2008, it is estimated that 25% of the work force will be HIV positive. The Government has approved a Comprehensive National Plan on HIV and AIDS Care, Management and Treatment, one aim of which is to provide access to antiretroviral treatment to more than 1.4 million South Africans by 2008.
With political and economic resources which far outstrip those of its neighbours, South Africa ha sought to support peace and development on the continent of Africa, both bilaterally and through its leading role in pan-African institutions. South Africa was the first chair of the African Union and the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD). NEPAD, brought about largely through the efforts of President Mbeki, is an African owned and led initiative, which is intended to achieve sustainable development in Africa in the 21st Century. NEPAD has instituted the African Peer Review Mechanism, in which African countries evaluate each other's performance in governance terms. Ghana and Rwanda were the first countries to undergo this process, intended to enhance governance across the continent and deter corruption.
South Africa plays a very important role in the facilitation of the peace process in Burundi and leads the African Union peacekeeping mission in Burundi (AMiB). South Africa has also been very active in promoting peace in the Great Lakes Region, instrumental as it was in the agreement of the Sun City Accords, which paved the way for an all-inclusive, power-sharing government in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The country is currently providing 887 troops to the UN peacekeeping operation in the DRC. South Africa has also been directly involved in peace initiatives in Lesotho, Angola, Mozambique and the Comoros.
Internationally, South Africa works closely with Ireland in supporting initiatives on disarmament and remains the only country to have voluntarily dismantled its nuclear weapons potential. Ireland also joins South Africa in its advocacy of effective multilateralism in international institutions.