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 and registration[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, except in Gauteng Province where, from 2013, newly issued plates must be metal.

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/licensing stores in shopping centres, although the vehicle registration document may be required.

From 1 February 2000, a process started to replace all number plates in South Africa to an aluminium number plate with an RFID tag containing an unique identification code, including the ability to identify the number plate in a foreign nation. This is termed an Intelligent Number Plate system. The system has been implemented for additional and circumstantial use. The numbering structure on plates will also then change. Concerning the foreign identification system within South Africa, foreigners are granted the permission to verify their number plate to the South African number plate system. The system of Wikipedia has granted and updated that the use of licence change does not include registration grant system of requesting a registration of the legal owner itself [needs update]

The Department of Roads and Transport in South Africa has set aside R25 million for the project during the 2015/2016 fiscal year. The Department of Transport in Kwa-Zulu Natal has set aside R1.5 million for vehicle registration plates for the province. A secure electronic mark will be used in the encryption of the code.

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

As of July 2016, new vehicles are 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 4mm rivets.


Province Standard Plates Personalised Plates Example Colouring Graphics
Western Cape Province Cab # xzzzzz WP  CA 123-456 
 CA 123-456 
Black on white
(Black on yellow still legal)
KwaZulu-Natal Province Nab # xzzzzz ZN  NN 21514 
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 
Black on white Baobab tree and provincial crest
Gauteng Province aaa+++ GP
aa++aa GP
xzzzzz GP  BBC 123 GP 
 BC 12 DF GP 

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 
Black on graphic
North West Province aaa+++ NW xzzzzz NW  BBC 123 NW 
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


  • 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]

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.[2] This is only enforced in the Free State and if the owner uses the vehicle with "expired" plates in any other province he/she will not be prosecuted. This expiry is independent from the annual licence renewal required by National Law.

North West Province[edit]

A new numbering system was announced in December 2015, which would be implemented in February 2016.[3]


The standard annual non-personalised licence fee is between R200 and R600, depending on the province in which the vehicle is registered and the weight of the vehicle. A large number of heavy vehicles are registered in Northern and Eastern Cape[citation needed] where the licence fees per vehicle mass are low.[citation needed] The Western Cape has the most expensive annual licence fees,[citation needed] but as with Northern and Eastern Cape, it has few toll roads.[citation needed]

Vehicle owners can buy specific personalised 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.[citation needed]

Legal requirements[edit]

All vehicles in South Africa, excluding motorcycles, 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 vehicle's registration number is indicated by a licence disc displayed inside the vehicle's windshield and must be visible from the passenger side of the vehicle. The vehicle's 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 disc.

In the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, where 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. Whenever a vehicle is registered in a new owner's name, the vehicle will receive the registration of the new owner's town. If the vehicle is registered in the same town as the current registration, no change of registration number takes place.

When a vehicle changes ownership it is required that the vehicle be taken for a roadworthy test. The new owner is allowed to use a vehicle for a period of 21 days on the previous owner's registration before the vehicle has to be registered in the new owner's name. If the roadworthy result cannot be obtained within this period, the owner may register the vehicle without being roadworthy, however a licence disc 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 buys 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 lives in. It is also not possible to renew the licence 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 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 where about 10,000 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 vehicle's VIN on the national registration database. These dots can be found with an ultraviolet light and when magnified the serial number can be traced. New vehicles are treated in the factory and the dots carry the vehicle's VIN. This is to assist the authorities in identifying a vehicle or any part thereof when VIN and engine numbers are not legible, or have been 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 roadworthy status for vehicles older than 10 years. The downside of this is that it might cause many poorer South Africans not to register vehicles in their name or to let licences lapse and just pay the fine when getting caught.

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


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

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


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:

Transvaal Province[edit]

South Africa Transvaal 1978 license plate graphic.png

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[edit]

The town Sasolburg, where oil is produced out of coal, received the very appropriate prefix "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 realised 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 adopt a new system. This system used two letters, two numbers, two letters and the Province Indicator of GP.

Homeland number plates[edit]

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


A 1977 licence 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



A 1972 licence plate from Malaulele, Gazankulu homeland.
  • GM - Malamulele District
  • GY - Giyani District
  • GR - Ritavi District
  • GH - Mhala District (now Mpumalanga)
  • GAZ - Gazankulu Government


A 1974 licence plate from Lebowa homeland.


  • LG - Lebowa Government
  • LP - Lebowa Police


  • LEB-1-NUMBER/S - Lebowakgomo & Mankweng (Thabamoopo District)
  • LEB-2-NUMBER/S - Schoonord & Surrounds
  • LEB-3-NUMBER/S - Mahwelereng & Surrounds (Mokerong District)
  • LEB-4-NUMBER/S - Seshego, Moletji, Matlala & Mashashane
  • LEB-5-NUMBER/S - Mapulaneng (Bushbuckridge)
  • LEB-6-NUMBER/S - Nebo & Surrounds
  • LEB-7-NUMBER/S - Tzaneen & Bolobedu Surroundings
  • LEB-8-NUMBER/S - Tzaneen & Lenyenye (Naphuno)
  • LEB-9-NUMBER/S - Praktiseer & Surroundings
  • LEB-10-NUMBER/S - Botlokwa & Sekgosese
  • LEB-11-NUMBER/SO - Bochum & Surroundings
  • LEB-13-NUMBER/S − Phalaborwa


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


  • KNK - Kwamhlanga
  • KNE - Enkangala
  • KNA - Siyabuswa
  • KNB - kwaggafontein
  • KNF - Vaal bank (Libangeni)
  • KNP - Kwandebele Police
  • KNG - Kwandebele Government


A 1979 licence plate from Kwabhaca, Transkei Homeland.


  • 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


  1. ^ "Intelligent Number Plates Postponed in South Africa". 3 June 2010. Archived from the original on 2013-05-16.
  2. ^
  3. ^ North West first with new plates
  4. ^ i

External links[edit]