Vehicle registration plates of South Africa

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South African number plates are unique in each of the provinces. Each province has their own number plate design and colours, as well as numbering scheme.

Material, shapes and availability[edit]

Number plates are available in plastic or metal. Plastic is the preferred material used by the majority of the motorists. They are also more common than their metal counterpart and are issued as standard plates by car dealerships.

The most common size is identical to the European number plates' size (110 mm × 520 mm (4.3 in × 20.5 in)) . However, a shorter plate is also common (120 mm × 440 mm (4.7 in × 17.3 in)). Most car dealerships now issue the former. Other shapes such as American and motorbike sizes are also available. Number plates can be made over the counter at registration/licencing stores in shopping centers, although the vehicle registration document may be required.

From 1 February 2010 a process will start to replace all number plates in South Africa to an aluminum number plate with an RFID tag with a unique identification code. This is to be called an Intelligent Number Plate system. The system is to be implemented for April 2010 but has been delayed until October 2010. The numbering structure on plates will also then change.[dated info]

The Department of Roads and Transport in South Africa has set aside 25 million Rand for the project during this fiscal year. A secure electronic mark will be used in the encryption of the code.

The system can automatically generate the details of driving offenses committed by a driver.[1]

At present (2013) new vehicles is however still being fitted with plastic plates and the system has still not been implemented.

New legislation also requires that a new vehicle's number plate be fixed to the body of the vehicle with four rivets.

The nine provinces[edit]

Province Standard Plates Personalised Plates Example Colouring Graphics
Western Cape Province Cab # xzzzzz WP  CA 123-456 
 CA 123-456 
Kfz-SA-Capetown.jpg
Black on white
(Black on yellow still legal)
None
KwaZulu-Natal Province Nab # xzzzzz ZN  NN 21514 
Kfz-SA-ZN-Name.jpg
Blue on white (Green on white for personalised plates) None
Mpumalanga Province aaa+++ MP xzzzzz MP  BBC123 MP 
Mpumalanga license plate.jpg
Black on white Stylised rising sun
Eastern Cape Province aaa+++ EC xzzzzz EC  BBC 123 EC 
Eastern Cape license plate.jpg
Black on graphic Elephant and aloe
Limpopo Province aaa+++ L xzzzzz L  BBC 123 L 
KFZ-SA-Limpopo.jpg
Black on white Baobab tree and provincial crest
Gauteng Province aaa+++ GP
aa++aa GP
xzzzzz GP  BBC 123 GP 
 BC 12 DF GP 

Kfz-SA-Gauteng.jpg
Blue on white Provincial Crest
Northern Cape Province aaa+++ NC xzzzzz NC  BBC 123 NC 
Northern Cape license plate.jpg
Green on white Gemsbok and sanddune
Free State Province aaa+++ FS xzzzzz FS  BBC 123 FS 
Kfz-SA-FS.jpg
Black on graphic Cheetah
North West Province aaa+++ NW xzzzzz NW  BBC 123 NW 
Kfz-SA-NW.jpg
Black on graphic Maize cob, elephant, sunflower and mine shaft
Diplomatic Vehicles +++(D or S) +++D [Old]
(D or S) BBB +++D [New]
None  890D 000D  Black or Green on White None
National Government Vehicles Gaa+++ G None  GBC 123 G  Black on yellow None
Police Vehicles Baa+++ B None  BCB 123 B 
Bpm522gp gauteng numberplate police.png
Black on white / blue on white (Gauteng) None / Gauteng provincial crest
Military Vehicles aaa+++ M None  BCB 123 M  Black on yellow None

Key:

  • UPPER CASE LETTERS: Literal letters in the numberplate
  • a: compulsory letter (A - Z)
  • b: letter (A - Z) or nothing
  • x: compulsory character (A - Z, 0 - 9)
  • z: character (A - Z, 0 - 9) or nothing
  • #: an integer number (1 - 999,999)
  • +: a compulsory digit (0 - 9)
  • NB:Vowels are not used on private vehicles.

Western Cape and Kwazulu-Natal[edit]

After 1994, the Western Cape Province and KwaZulu-Natal Province are the only two provinces where the registration can be still linked to specific towns and cities. i.e. the pre-1980 system has largely been retained in these areas, so the first two or three letters at the start of each number plate identify where the vehicle was licensed.

Western Cape Province[edit]

Map of the registration prefixes in the Western Cape

In 1994, the Cape Province was subdivided into three provinces (Western, Eastern and Northern Cape Provinces). The Eastern Cape and Northern Cape changed their licensing system and thus some former Cape Province registration prefixes, such as CB (Port Elizabeth), have been dropped. Some parts of the former Cape Province (such as Mafeking) have moved to the North West Province. The current Western Cape Province list is essentially an abbreviation of the pre-1980 Cape Province list, following the changes to the political boundaries that saw some towns shift provinces completely (Kokstad), and one change country (Walvis Bay).

KwaZulu-Natal Province[edit]

Unchanged from pre-1980 (see Natal Province section below)

Limpopo Province[edit]

The Northern Province was renamed Limpopo in 2002.[2] After 1994, the last letter of the number plate of Limpopo registered vehicles was "N". In 2005 it was announced that the letter would change to "L", and motorists were given 5 years (until 2010) to get the new number plates with "L" instead of "N".[3] This date has been postponed until November 2013.

Free State Province[edit]

The Free State is the only province in South Africa that placed an expiry date on their registration plate. Every 5 years the owner is required to replace the plate irrespective of condition. This is only enforced in the Free State and if the owner use the vehicle in any other province with "expired" plates, he will not be prosecuted. This expiry is independent from the annual license renewal required by National Law.

Costs[edit]

The cost of obtaining personalized number plates can be as high as R10,000 (once off) for a single character licence plate (e.g. "1 WP") after which the standard annual licence fee is applicable of between R200 and R600, depending on the province in which the vehicle is registered and the weight of the vehicle. Heavy vehicles license fees is also calculated according to their weight. This has the affect that a large number of heavy vehicles are registered in Northern and Eastern Cape where the license fees are the lowest. The Western Cape is the most expensive with annual license fees, but as with Northern and Eastern Cape, has none but 2 toll roads.

Vehicle owners can also buy specific registration numbers from registering authorities. The cost for a single digit registration e.g. CA 1 will be in the region of R6000 while a long number e.g. CA 12345 can be as low as R600.

Legal requirements[edit]

All vehicles in South Africa, excluding motor cycles, are required to display a number plate on the front and the rear of the vehicle. For vehicles that cannot accommodate a full size plate in front, a plate with smaller dimensions may be fitted with permission from the registering authority.

The validation of a vehicles registration number is indicated by a licence disk displayed inside the vehicles windshield and must be visible from the passenger side of the vehicle. The vehicles registration number, vin and engine number as well as the licence expiry date, vehicle weight and number of passengers the vehicle is allowed to carry is indicated on the disk.

In the Western Cape and Kwazulu Natal were the registration number is indicative of the town of registration, the registration number will not change when the owner of the vehicle relocates to another town in the same province. It is required of the owner to inform the authorities of a change of address within 21 days. However if the owner relocates to another province, the owner has to register the vehicle in that province within 21 days. When ever a vehicle is registered in a new owners name the vehicle will receive the registration of the new owners town. If the vehicle is registered in the same town as the current registration, no change of registration number take place.

When a vehicle changes ownership it is required that the vehicle be taken for a roadworthy test.(Fitness for road use) The new owner is allowed to use a vehicle for a period of 21 days on the previous owners registration before the vehicles has to be registered in the new owners name. If the road worthy cannot be obtained with in this period the owner may register the vehicle without roadworthy, but a license disk will not be issued and the vehicle may not be used on a public road. A temporary permit must be obtained from the registering authority to drive the vehicle to the testing station or repair shop. The permit is valid for three days.

When a person buy's a vehicle from a dealer in another province or town other than the one they live in, a temporary permit valid for three weeks is issued by the registration authorities. A vehicle can only be registered in the town the owner live in. It is also not possible to renew the license in any other town than the town the registered owner lives in.

The temporary permit is a cardboard "number plate" to be displayed in either the front or rear window of the vehicle.

When a vehicle's engine is replaced or the vin and engine number needs to be verified for some legal reason the vehicle needs to obtain a police clearance. Since September 2012 a vehicle can only obtain a clearance if it was marked with a micro dot, or data dot system. This is a process were about 10000 micro dots with a serial number on is sprayed with a resin onto all components of the vehicle. This serial number is linked to the vehicles vin number on the national registration data base. These dots can be found with an ultra violet light and when magnified the serial number can be traced. New vehicles are treated in the factory and the dots carry the vehicles vin number. This is to assist the authorities in identifying a vehicle or any part there-off when vin and engine numbers are not legible, or removed.

Legislation is also on the table to have micro dotting made compulsory for all vehicles changing owners as well as requiring a 2 yearly road worthy for vehicles older than 10 years. The down side of this is that is might cause many poorer South Africans not to register vehicles in their name or to let licenses laps and just pay the fine when getting caught.

It is illegal in South Africa to alter or tamper with a vehicles vin or the factory stamped number on an engine in any way. Evidence of tamper will lead to the vehicles being confiscated and possibly destroyed.

History[edit]

Before 1994, South Africa had only 4 provinces: Natal Province, Cape Province, Orange Free State and Transvaal. Each province with its own identifying lettering. Natal - N, Cape - C, Orange Free State - O and Transvaal - T.

Pre Circa 1980[edit]

White letters on a black background were used across the country, including the military. For example:  CC 147 

Each town had a unique registration prefix followed by a number that was allocated sequentially from 1 (the mayor's vehicle) onward to 999 999. For trade plates (used by car dealers on un-licensed vehicles), the letters and numbers were swapped.

There were no personalised number plates.

Military[edit]

Military vehicles used the letter "R" as a prefix, followed by a sequential number. For example:  R54321 

Police[edit]

Police vehicles used the letters "SAP" as a prefix, followed by a sequential number. For example: SAP 4321

Cape Province[edit]

The towns in the Cape Province were originally assigned prefixes in order from largest to smallest and following the corresponding letters of the alphabet. Thus "CA" represented the largest city, Cape Town, "CB" the second largest, Port Elizabeth and so on. The full list of Cape Province prefixes was as follows:

Additional/alternate assignments {also differing spellings} from a 1949 publication:

Gauteng Province[edit]

KwaZulu-Natal Province[edit]

The different regions in the KZN province use the place names to determine the letters that are used to identify each region. This pattern does not always hold, especially for smaller areas.

Orange Free State Plates[edit]

Note that the town Sasolburg, where oil is produced out of coal received the very

appropriate reg no "OIL".

Circa 1975 to 1994[edit]

A new numbering scheme had to be introduced in the Transvaal, after the Johannesburg series exceeded the number  TJ 999-999 . An alphanumeric system was therefore introduced in this province, which allowed more permutations with fewer characters. The series comprised three letters followed by three numbers and the letter "T". All number plates used black text on a yellow background, for example:  BCD123T .

From this point onward, a Transvaal vehicle's origin could no longer be narrowed down to a specific town or city. However people soon realized that the first letter of the registration indicated the date of first registration of a vehicle, as the sequence grew alphabetically. It was therefore very obvious to a casual observer if someone had a new vehicle.

At this time black text on yellow background became mandatory throughout South Africa so the other three provinces also adopted the new black on yellow number plates, but kept their existing numbering systems.Example: CR 7822. At this stage government plates adopted the same system as Transvaal. Example: BCD123M.

Towards 1994 this numbering system for the Transvaal was rapidly running out of permutations. Fortunately in 1994 the four provinces were dissolved and nine new provinces were introduced. All the new provinces excluding Western Cape and Kwazulu Natal adopted the

alphanumeric system. Due to public demand at this time, different text colour on white background was also allowed. The different provinces could decide on text colour for their plates. A white background is used in all provinces although some provinces place graphics on this background relevant to their province.

Towards 2012 Gauteng Province (GP) were once again running out of permutations and had to adopted a new system. Two letters, two numbers, two letters and Province Indicator (GP)

Homeland Number Plates[edit]

Under Apartheid South Africa, each of the homelands had their own departments of vehicle licencing.

Bophuthatswana[edit]

A 1977 license plate from Ditsobotla, Bophuthatswana Homeland.
  • YB - Government vehicles
  • YBA - Molopo
  • YBB - Odi
  • YBC - Moretele
  • YBD - Bafokeng & Tlhabane
  • YBE - Ditsobotla
  • YBF - Mogwase
  • YBG - Lehurutshe
  • YBH - Tlhaping-Tlharo
  • YBJ - Madikwe
  • YBK - Thaba 'Nchu
  • YBL - Mankwe
  • YBM - Ganyesa
  • YBN - Taung
  • YBP - Police vehicles
  • YBX - Mabopane

Ciskei[edit]

Gazankulu[edit]

A 1972 license plate from Malaulele, Gazankulu homeland.

Lebowa[edit]

A 1974 license plate from Lebowa homeland.

Government

  • LG - Lebowa Government
  • LP - Lebowa Police

Civilian

  • LEB-1-NUMBER/S - Lebowakgomo & Surrounds
  • LEB-2-NUMBER/S - Schoonord & Surrounds
  • LEB-3-NUMBER/S - Mahwelereng & Surrounds
  • LEB-4-NUMBER/S - Seshego & Surrounds
  • LEB-5-NUMBER/S
  • LEB-6-NUMBER/S - Nebo & Surrounds
  • LEB-7-NUMBER/S - Tzaneen & Surrounds
  • LEB-8-NUMBER/S
  • LEB-9-NUMBER/S
  • LEB-10-NUMBER/S - Botlokwa & Surrounds

Qwaqwa[edit]

  • WR - Government vehicles
  • WRP - Police vehicles
  • OBW - Public Vehicles

Kwa-ndebele[edit]

  • KNK - Kwamhlanga
  • KNE - Enkangala

Transkei[edit]

A 1979 license plate from Kwabhaca, Transkei Homeland.

Venda[edit]

  • VD - Dzanani
  • VDF - Defence Force vehicles
  • VM - Government vehicles
  • VP - Police vehicles
  • VS - Tshitale
  • VT - Thohoyandou
  • VTA - Traffic Administration vehicles
  • VV - Dzanani, Mutale, Sibasa & Vuwani, Venda

Zululand / KwaZulu[edit]

  • ZG - Government vehicles
  • ZK - Paramount Chief vehicles
  • ZP - Police vehicles
  • Z - General vehicles

Controversy[edit]

A growing illegal trend among motorists in South Africa, especially those with high-performance vehicles, is to remove their number plates so as not to be caught by speed cameras.[4] This evasion is possible due to a lack of enforcement as well as the comparatively low sanction for not displaying number plates relative to the cost of speeding fines. This law has been adapted and drivers with no plates or false plates will be arrested, but there is still a lack of law enforcement resulting in very few arrests.

References[edit]

  1. ^ http://www.nationalnumbers.co.uk/articles/intelligent-number-plates-postponed-in-south-africa-1793
  2. ^ http://www.roughguides.com/website/travel/Destination/content/default.aspx?titleid=35&xid=idh174939264_0729
  3. ^ http://www.news24.com/News24/South_Africa/News/0,9294,2-7-1442_2089123,00.html[dead link]
  4. ^ "Police launch number-plate clampdown". iol.co.za. 10 April 2006.