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. e.g. NN 29345

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 a 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 Department of 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 January 2022, 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, or an approved number plate holder, with four 4mm rivets.II


Province Standard Plates Personalised Plates Example Colouring Graphics
Western Cape Province Cab # xzzzzz WP Kfz-SA-Capetown.jpg
1976 Cape Town South Africa license plate.jpg
 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 coat of arms
Gauteng Province aaa+++ GP
aa++aa GP
xzzzzz GP  BBC 123 GP 
 BC 12 DF GP 

Blue on white Provincial coat of arms
Northern Cape Province aaa+++ NC xzzzzz NC  BBC 123 NC 
South Africa Northern Cape license plate.jpg
Green on white Gemsbok and sand dune
Free State Province aaa+++ FS xzzzzz FS South Africa Free State License plate 01.jpg
South Africa Free State License plate 05.jpg
Black on graphic
Green on graphic
North West Province aaa+++ NW xzzzzz NW  BBC 123 NW 
Black on graphic Maize cob, elephant, sunflower and mine headgear
Diplomatic vehicles +++(D or C or X or S) +++D [Old]
(D or C or X or S) BBa +++ D [New]
None C BBN 371 D  Red (for D plates) or Green (for C, X and S plates) on White None
National and provincial government vehicles Gaa+++ G None  GBC 123 G  Black on yellow None
South African Police Service vehicles Baa+++ B None  BCB 123 B 
Bpm522gp gauteng numberplate police.png
Black on white / blue on white (Gauteng) None / Gauteng provincial coat of arms
South African National Defence Force vehicles aaa+++ M None  BCB 123 M  Black on yellow None
  • In the Eastern Cape, provincial government vehicles (especially Health Department) have red letters and a red frame on white.
  • Limpopo was initially named Northern Province and used the code N. When the name changed, a new sequence of numbers began, ending in L.


  • UPPER CASE LETTERS: Literal letters in the number plate
  • 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[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 and Northern Cape changed their licensing system so the Cape Province registration prefixes used there, like CB (Port Elizabeth) and CC (Kimberley), were dropped. The homeland states of Ciskei and Transkei became part of the Eastern Cape. The Stellaland district (Vryburg) became part of North West Province. The current Western Cape Province list is essentially an abbreviation of the pre-1980 Cape Province list.

Western Cape Province
Registration Location
CA or CAA Cape Town Afrikaans: Kaapstad, Xhosa: iKapa (CAA was first introduced on 13 April 2019 when Cape Town ran out of CA combinations).[2]
CAM Caledon & Kleinmond
CAR Clanwilliam, Lambert's Bay, Citrusdal, Graafwater
CAW or CAG George (When the George area ran out of CAW combinations in late 2019, CAG started being issued. CAG used to be the code for Barkly West, Northern Cape which now uses NC).
CBL Ladismith
CBM Laingsburg
CBR Montagu
CBS Mossel Bay & Hartenbos. Afrikaans: Mosselbaai.
CBT Murraysburg
CBY Piketberg
CCA Prince Albert Afrikaans: Prins Albert.
CCC Riversdale & Stilbaai. Afrikaans: Riversdal.
CCD Robertson & McGregor
CCK Swellendam & Barrydale
CCM Tulbagh
CCO Uniondale
CCP Van Rhynsdorp, Klawer. Afrikaans: Vanrhynsdorp.
CEA Moorreesburg
CEG Heidelberg
CEM Hermanus, Gansbaai, Onrus River & Stanford
CEO Grabouw & Elgin
CER Bonnievale
CES Albertinia
CEX Porterville
CEY Strand & Gordon's Bay. Now part of the City of Cape Town.
CF Kuils River, Brackenfell, Kraaifontein (Since about 2000; previously the code for Grahamstown, Eastern Cape). Now part of the City of Cape Town.
CFA Wolseley
CFG Vredenburg, Saldanha & St Helena Bay
CFM Somerset West.

. Now part of the City of Cape Town.

CFP Velddrif & Laaiplek
CFR Kuils River & Brackenfell (Still seen on older vehicles.) Now part of the City of Cape Town.
CG Oudtshoorn
CJ Paarl
CK Malmesbury & Darling
CL Stellenbosch & Franschhoek
CN Wellington
CO Calitzdorp
CR Hopefield, Langebaan & Langebaan Road
CS Bredasdorp & Napier
CT Ceres
CV Vredendal
CW Worcester, De Doorns & Touws River
CX Knysna, Sedgefield & Plettenberg Bay
CY Bellville, Durbanville, Parow, Goodwood. Now part of the City of Cape Town.
CZ Beaufort West
CCT City of Cape Town vehicles. Previously the code for Willowmore, Eastern Cape.


Local Government

Free State[edit]

The Free State is the only province in South Africa that places an expiry date on its registration plate. Every five years the owner is required to replace the plate irrespective of condition.[3] 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. This is the only province in the country that has the same borders today as it did before the Boer War, although it has had three changes of name. It was the Orange Free State (a Boer republic), the Orange River Colony (1902-1910), the Orange Free State Province (Provinsie Oranje Vrystaat, 1910–1994) and is now simply the Free State.

North West[edit]

A new numbering system was announced in December 2015, which would be implemented in February 2016.[4]


The standard annual non-personalised licence fee is between R250 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 four provinces: Cape Province, Natal Province, Orange Free State and Transvaal. Each province had its own identifying lettering: Cape – C, Natal – N, 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.


Government vehicles used the letters GG (for Government Garage) as a prefix, followed by a sequential number. For example: GG 4321

  • Three government services and a government agency used their own registration codes:
  • DW – Department of Water Affairs.
  • P – Post Office (including telecommunications).
  • SAS-R – South African Railways road motor service.
  • BT – Bantu Trust.


Military vehicles used the letter U (for Union Defence Force) as a prefix until 1961, when U was replaced by R (for Republic of South Africa), followed by a sequential number. Examples:  U 4321   R 54321  On armoured vehicles especially, the numbers were painted in white on the green paint of the bodywork, or in black on desert sand paint.


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

However, many police vehicles were registered locally and carried the registrations used in the four provinces.

Diplomatic corps[edit]

Diplomatic vehicles used the letters DC as a prefix, followed by a sequential number. For example: DC 4321

Cape Province[edit]

The towns in the Cape Province were originally assigned two-letter prefixes for the principal cities and towns, with smaller centres allocated three-letter codes. CA represented the largest city, Cape Town, CB the second-largest, Port Elizabeth, CC was Kimberley, CD King William's Town, CE East London, CF Grahamstown, CG Oudtshoorn, CH Queenstown, CI Worcester, CJ Paarl, CK Malmesbury and CL Stellenbosch. By the middle of the 20th century it was realised that the letter I was easily confused with the figure 1 and Q with O and 0, while odd codes had been introduced with the small letter o tagged on. So the system was revised, eliminating the o codes, and extra two-letter codes were allocated: CM De Aar, CN Wellington, CO Calitzdorp, CR Hopefield, CS Bredasdorp, CT Ceres, CU Port Nolloth, CV Vredendal, CW Worcester, CX Knysna, CY Bellville and CZ Beaufort West. The full list of Cape Province prefixes (with present-day provinces in brackets) was:

Codes obsolete by 1950:

Transvaal Province[edit]

A 1978 number plate from Transvaal Province.

Natal Province[edit]

In many cases the districts of the province took their letters from the place names to determine the letters that are used to identify each region. Almost all of the areas remained unchanged since 1994, the Only province in South Africa not changing number plates or areas since 1994. This pattern does not always hold.

Orange Free State[edit]

The town of 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 introduced in this province, which allowed more permutations with fewer characters. The reason given for this change was that it was necessary because the system was computerised, which was an argument only valid for a few years. Despite this, a trend towards centralisation of vehicle registries continued, despite its inconvenience to motorists. 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:  BCD 123 T .

From this point onward, a Transvaal vehicle's origin could no longer be narrowed down to a specific town or city. However the first letter of the registration indicated the date of first registration of a vehicle, as the sequence grew alphabetically. However, because the Transvaal used codes that coincided with those used in other provinces, traffic officers failed to notice the T at the end, and issued fines to Cape motorists whose registrations matched those of T vehicles passing through the Cape. The use of C and N codes ought to have been barred. O was not used, since the new system avoided the use of vowels.

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: BCD 123 M.

Towards 1994 this numbering system for the Transvaal was rapidly running out of permutations. However, in 1994 the four provinces were dissolved and nine new provinces were created. All the new provinces apart from the 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) was running out of permutations and had to adopt a new system. This system used two letters, two numbers, two letters and the province indicator GP.

Homeland number plates[edit]

Under apartheid South Africa, each of the homelands had its own department of vehicle licensing.


A 1977 number plate from Ditsobotla, Bophuthatswana homeland.
  • YBA – Molopo, including Mafikeng (now Mahikeng) and the Bophuthatswana capital, Mmabatho.
  • YBB – Odi. Previously part of Brits district, code TAZ.
  • YBC – Moretele. Previously part of Pretoria district, code TP.
  • YBD – Bafokeng & Tlhabane. Previously part of Rustenburg district, code TRB.
  • YBE – Ditsobotla. Previously part of Lichtenburg district, code TAB.
  • YBF – Mogwase. Previously part of Rustenburg district, code TRB.
  • YBG – Lehurutshe. Previously part of Zeerust district, TAF.
  • YBH – Tlhaping-Tlharo. Previously Kuruman district (now Kudumane), CBK.
  • YBJ – Madikwe. Previously part of Zeerust district, TAF.
  • YBK – Thaba Nchu. Previously part of Bloemfontein district, OB.
  • YBL – Mankwe. Previously part of Rustenburg district, code TRB.
  • YBM – Ganyesa. Previously part of Stellaland (Vryburg), code CCS.
  • YBN – Taung. Previously CFN.
  • YBX – Mabopane. Previously part of Pretoria district, code TP.


  • YB – Government vehicles
  • YBP – Police vehicles

Most of Bophuthatswana was absorbed into North West Province. Thaba Nchu returned to the Free State Province. The half-district Moretele 2 (east of the N1) became part of Mpumalanga.



  • GC – Ciskei government vehicles
  • GCP – Ciskei police vehicles

Ciskei became part of the Eastern Cape Province.


A 1972 number plate from Malamulele, Gazankulu homeland.
  • GM – Malamulele district. Previously part of Louis Trichardt district (TAJ). Now part of Limpopo province.
  • GY – Giyani district. Previously part of Louis Trichardt district (TAJ). Now part of Limpopo province.
  • GR – Ritavi district. Previously part of Tzaneen district (TBC). Now part of Limpopo.
  • GH – Mhala district. Previously part of White River district (TDH). Now part of Mpumalanga.



A 1974 number plate from Thabamoopo, Lebowa homeland.


  • LG – Lebowa government
  • LP – Lebowa police

Lebowa became part of Limpopo Province.


  • OBW – private vehicles
  • WR – government vehicles
  • WRP – police vehicles

The letter W stands for the Witsieshoek district, where Qwaqwa was located. Retained the code OBW from the Orange Free State. It is once more part of the Free State.


  • KNK – KwaMhlanga
  • KNE – Enkangala
  • KNA – Siyabuswa
  • KNB – Kwaggafontein
  • KNF – Vaalbank (Libangeni)


  • KNG – KwaNdebele government
  • KNP – KwaNdebele police

KwaNdebele became part of Mpumalanga province.


A 1979 number plate from KwaBhaca, Transkei homeland.


  • XG – Transkei government
  • XGA – Agriculture & Forestry Department
  • XGC – Commerce, Industry & Tourism Department
  • XGH – Health & Welfare Department
  • XGL – Local Government & Land Tenure Department
  • XGW – Works & Energy Department
  • XM – Transkei army
  • XP – Transkei police
  • XPT – Transkei traffic police
  • XRT – Transkei Road Transport Service

Transkei became part of the Eastern Cape Province, apart from Umzimkhulu, which was transferred to KwaZulu-Natal in 2006.



  • VM – Government vehicles
  • VDF – Defence Force
  • VP – Police
  • VTA – Traffic administration

Venda became part of Limpopo Province.

Zululand / KwaZulu[edit]

  • ZG – Government
  • ZK – Paramount Chief
  • ZP – Police
  • Z – private vehicles

The colony of Zululand lay to the north of the Tugela River (today Thukela) and was annexed to Natal in 1887. Its tribal territories fell under the Paramount Chief of the amaZulu.

KwaZulu was created to encompass the tribal territories of both Natal and Zululand, and also fell under the Paramount Chief (today the King) of the amaZulu.

In 1994 KwaZulu and Natal were merged as KwaZulu-Natal Province.

Ulundi was the capital of KwaZulu and shared the status of KwaZulu-Natal capital with Pietermaritzburg until 2004.


  1. ^ "Intelligent Number Plates Postponed in South Africa". 3 June 2010. Archived from the original on 16 May 2013.
  2. ^ "CA number plates will soon become CAA". Western Cape Government. 8 April 2019. Archived from the original on 16 May 2019. Retrieved 13 January 2020.
  3. ^
  4. ^ North West first with new plates
  5. ^ i

External links[edit]

License plates of South Africa – Picture gallery at Francoplaque