Deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa is clearly battling to negotiate the fine balance between towing the party line and driving an individualistic presidential campaign.
And members of the opposition in Parliament are not making his task any easier, coercing the presidential hopeful with questions that pin him up against his party's rhetoric on pivotal issues facing the ANC and South Africa.
Ramaphosa was hounded while responding to questions in Parliament on Wednesday, but as usual, maintained a neutral perspective -- much to the displeasure of opposition parties who could be heard shouting over his answers.
Struggling to find his own voice
But remaining an ANC man while at the same time identifying himself as an alternative to the Zuma faction is seemingly becoming more difficult.
In his public appearances, Ramaphosa has come out strongly against state capture and divisions within the ANC in attempts to disassociate himself from his leader – and opposition parties took note. And now, they are sizing him up, but Ramaphosa will not waver from the ANC mandate.
The first question by Demcratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane on the vote of no confidence in president Jacob Zuma opened up the floodgates, with other MPs grilling Ramaphosa on his ideological and moral perspectives on what they are calling a witch-hunt against ANC MPs who voted against the president.
Ramaphosa was quick to deny this notion, saying the ANC should be left to carry out its internal processes. He did defend party members like Derek Hanekom, who is thought to be aligned with his faction.
Lukewarm and indecisive
Ramaphosa's indecisiveness was most blatant when questions emerged about his take on Grace Mugabe being granted diplomatic immunity while facing charges of assault.
"The decision was taken in terms of the internationally recognised immunity regulations which...That was the instrument utilised for this purpose. It is the first time we have used this type of convention, a lot can be said pro and against it," he said.
"The clarity that there is on this matter is not full and complete in the sense that in certain environments it is applied and others it is not applied. It happens to have been applied here in South Africa."
He was tested again when Agang's Molapi Plouamma asked about how much Ramaphosa knew about the Guptas' alleged influence on Eskom.
Ramaphosa reverted to his usual parliamentary rhetoric, while maintaining his characteristically calm demeanor.
He mentioned that his only knowledge of the Guptas' influence is derived from whatever information is currently within the public domain and went on to insist on the importance of the president supporting a judicial commission of inquiry into state capture – even though he admittedly did not know when this would happen.
Plouamma provoked Ramaphosa to say Zuma was at fault. His response was telling.
"I am not here to win a contest through which I would please [Plouamma]. On matters that effect the republic and the interest of our people, you will find many on this side (the ANC) will speak out. We have from time to time with certain things that are wrong, spoken out," Ramaphosa said.
"The president is in the process of applying his mind. The law is what it is. Commissions of inquiry are appointed by the president, that is what the constitution of the republic says and there is no two ways about it."
Rambled on and on
In the follow up questions on state capture, when Ramaphosa could not rely on his notes, he rambled repeatedly and emphasized the need for the law to take its course and for Zuma to be allowed time to finalise his inquiry.
But on issues such as economic policy, the reform of state-owned enterprises and the technicalities of the unemployment rate, the deputy president was unchallengeable.
The economy and industry has been Ramaphosa's strong point and he faced questions on such with confidence, dropping his head every now and again to double check his statistics.
For example, Maimane was first to grill Ramaphosa on the amended mining charter, asking if Ramaphosa supported it or would join calls for it to be shelved.
Again, he remained unbiased but charismatic.
"Let me say that there are quite a number of retrenchments taking place in the mining industry and other sectors of our economy as well. We should not even adopt a posture where we point fingers. This is a collective problem," Ramaphosa said.
"The [ANC] at its policy conference did say this matter needs to be addressed through a consensus process and that process is underway...I want to invite [Maimane] to join those who love their country so much that they are willing to contribute time, effort and wisdom to the growth of our economy rather than to point fingers."
It may be too early for Ramaphosa to take an independent and decisive stance on matters currently plaguing the country, but it will be a step he must take in the run up to December's national conference if he wants to be seen as a strong alternative leader in the ANC.
So far, he has been vocal, but to a point where he does not overstep his party line. And he has been extremely careful not to.
But he will have to take it up a gear, and soon, if he wants to be seen as someone who can take the ANC forward.Suggest a correction