Although viewed (and dismissed) by many as primarily a tool for communication, language (and literature) cannot be understood only in relation to what it communicates. A study of how it is shaped uncovers the social forces that provide its broad and complex template in the acts of reading and writing. This article focuses on the utility and meaning of African languages and literatures in higher education, with Benedict Wallet Vilakazi’s (1906–1947) poetry at the centre. It argues how, by resurrecting “black archives”, in this article epitomised by revisiting the work of one iconic writer and scholar, Vilakazi, we could give further impetus to the prospect of intellectual efforts in African languages. In this context, the article upholds the value and meaning of this scholar while offering perspectives on the saliency of his work for inter alia the meanings and location of African languages and literatures with regard to epistemic diversity, the “transformation” of curricula, tradition versus modernity, gender, the meaning of identity, and the broader humanist project. In essence, therefore, the article suggests that in an academic context, African languages and literatures require a serious engagement with the “implied reader”, “the native subject” and consequently necessitates greater troubling, unsettling in the way we teach, the way we write, and the way we read. It suggests that acts of rereading (albeit preliminary) are an important intervention in the project of the intellectualisation of our discipline.