For many he epitomised the noose around the neck of the news division at the public broadcaster, yet Snuki Zikalala strongly defends his tenure at the SABC, which ended a month ago.

"It's not easy to leave the SABC on a good note, but I did," says the 58-year-old doctor of journalism. "Everything I told the board I would achieve over the past five years, I've done."

Zikalala joined the SABC in 1993 and though he worked for government for a two-year stint between 2002 and 2004, all told he spent 14 years at Auckland Park.

He started out as a labour correspondent, and five years later was appointed by then chief executive Zwelakhe Sisulu to create what he calls the "SABC news brand".

"Until then, radio news was in one building, TV news was in another and there was nothing we could call SABC news," he says.

The broadcaster had commissioned the Mackenzie management team to guide them through the restructuring process and one of their recommendations was the need for bi-media, a coordinated radio and television stream.

Under the title of deputy editor in chief - radio and TV news, Zikalala set about merging the two and creating a single newsroom. In 2000 he was appointed executive editor of news.

However, bi-media failed in many respects, perhaps understandably. Radio soon lost out to TV and the ratings began to paint a worrisome picture.

"It had worked in other countries, but it cannot work in South Africa," Zikalala explains. "Radio is big here - we broadcast in 13 languages. But some of the journalists focused more on television," at the expense of radio.

Others failed to see that a script that worked for one would not work for the other. All told, bi-media was not working and one of the first decisions Peter Matlare made - when he joined as chief executive in 2002 - was to abandon the plan.

"My position was affected by that decision because I was in charge of news gathering," Zikalala explains. "So I left and went to government," where he worked at the Department of Labour as spokesman and communications chief.

Two years later the position of managing director - news and current affairs became vacant at the broadcaster, and Zikalala applied for it.

"I presented them with a master plan, a road map of where the broadcaster should go," he recalls. He was appointed to the position on a five-year contract.

However, some weeks back the board decided not to renew his contract, but Zikalala argues this should not be misunderstood as a slight on his performance.

His track record speaks for itself, he says. During his time at the top he began to programme current affairs in a number of African languages and today the ratings for Cutting Edge, broadcast in Zulu, exceed those of Special Assignment.

"And I'm very proud of that," he says.

He then turned his focus to the broadcaster's international coverage, strongly of the view "that we couldn't only be informed by BBC, CNN or Al Jazeera about what was happening in the world".

Four years ago he hatched the idea of SABC International and turned to his chief executive, by then Dali Mpofu, for support. Mpofu gave him his full backing.

Zikalala's idea was to transform SABC Africa, which was performing poorly due to a lack of in-house foreign correspondents and hence original copy, into an international channel with 13 bureaux dotted around the world.

These included strategically important locations like London and China and remote countries like Jamaica. Africa would also be well covered with four offices. This was the plan he presented to the board.

"Go ahead, Snuki. Start it," they told him and two years ago then-president Thabo Mbeki launched the channel.

Today it's struggling to survive, broadcasting on an obscure platform with pathetic ratings. A decision has been taken to close three of the bureaux.

Yet Zikalala stands by his decision to launch the channel. "South Africans must hear from South Africans what's happening in the world."

Another decision he is proud of is the presidential correspondents he created in a bid to separate the state from the party in SABC coverage. He also established the SABC news agency. More recently, the broadcaster got the thumbs up from the Media Monitoring group for its fair coverage of the April elections.

"There is no room for politics in the SABC," he used to tell his staff. "If you want to get involved in politics, you must leave the SABC or leave your politics outside."

Yet Zikalala was a political appointment himself and his political views were not often kept in check, though he refutes this.

"I was raised by the ANC and I'm not afraid to say that… But when I walked in here, I thought I must look at issues in a much more professional way. You cannot be biased."

However, when I ask him if he's a member of the ruling party, Zikalala laughs but won't be drawn any further. "I cannot comment about that," he says.

Three years ago his political leanings began to emerge during the infamous "blacklisting" saga. A number of commentators found they were no longer welcome at Auckland Park. They shared one common characteristic: "A penchant for incisive commentary that often was critical of the government", as one aptly put it.

"There was no blacklisting," Zikalala says. "It's what you call grey-listing. The unfortunate thing is that we failed to communicate it properly."

According to Zikalala, the same faces and voices were dominating airwaves and screens, though not all were qualified to opine as they did. He drafted guidelines for his staff, suggesting they consider more qualified people to provide comment.

"The commentators I would like to see are the ones that are attached to academic institutions. That's what I said. But there were no names attached," he argues.

Yet an inquiry into the matter found otherwise, based on affidavits submitted by Pippa Green, then head of radio news, and former presenter John Perlman, which pointed to the existence of the blacklists.

Zikalala still stands by his claim.

Green, Perlman and a host of other well-known journalists left the corporation under Zikalala's watch, either squeezed out by him or unable to work under him.

One-time colleague Max du Preez understood his dismissal as follows: "He explained to senior black colleagues, who in turn told me, that it was 'symbolically important' for the 'Africanisation of the SABC' to 'crush' the most senior white journalist in the corporation 'as an example to other whites'."

Yet upon his departure last month, Zikalala talked to Tim Modise on SAFM about his perceived lack of respect from white editors in the industry.

"They feel that a black man cannot run such a huge organisation. A black man cannot have the good and courageous ideas that I have," he said.

The website Thought Leader attributes the following quote to him, which it is claimed he made in a 1997 interview: "I used to hate everything to do with white people" and that "it's not easy to shake that passion'."

"I never said it," Zikalala now says.

Is he racist?

"I'm not racist at all. I grew up in the ANC and the party's politics taught me to see people as human beings and not judge them on their skin colour."

Ironically, his 1986 PhD dissertation, which he was awarded at the Sofia University in Bulgaria, was submitted under the title "SABC as the Racist Propaganda".

What a long way he has come.