During the apartheid era South Africa was a pariah state. It now enjoys full membership in the international community. Over the past five years, South Africa has gradually assumed an important role as an economic and moral leader for sub-Saharan Africa. Relations with neighboring nations have become strong, and South Africa has begun to provide economic and technical assistance to neighboring states through the Southern African Development Community (SADC). Mbeki's message of an "African Renaissance" is undermined by his public lack of concern over the ravages of AIDS. If he can find a way to retract or modify his stance on this critical health issue, Mbeki will be able to restore the wide respect he enjoyed among African leaders.
Since the ANC government remains deeply committed to domestic resource redistribution and maintains close ties with Cuba and Libya, the West regards the government with caution. During the apartheid era, Cuba and Libya provided financial assistance and training to ANC guerrillas and the Mbeki government remains appreciative of that support. Mbeki's government cannot antagonize western investors and governments, however, because South Africa seeks a major infusion of foreign investment.
In his February 2003 "State of the Nation" address, Mbeki announced the deployment of a South African technical team to Iraq to aid that country in demonstrating to the world that it did not possess weapons of mass destruction. In attempting to prevent a war between the United States and Iraq, Mbeki had staked out a role for South Africa as an independent player on the international stage. Mbeki's speech was criticized for paying too much attention to the situation in Iraq at the expense of the political crisis in Zimbabwe. Following the address, Mbeki spoke to the issue of property owned by South Africans in Zimbabwe, and stated a bilateral agreement to protect investments in both countries was under consideration. As inaugural chairman of the African Union, however, Mbeki was pressed for not denouncing Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe and the politically motivated violence committed against the opposition there during the 2002 elections, in addition to the restrictions Mugabe placed on the press.