JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa's central bank will hold its benchmark interest rate at 8.25% on May 30, the day after the country's general election, before likely beginning an easing cycle next quarter as inflation retreats back to target.

All 20 economists in a May 20-23 Reuters poll said the South African Reserve Bank (SARB) will leave the benchmark rate unchanged at the conclusion of its meeting next Thursday.

They were divided on future moves, however, with eight of 17 believing rates would be cut by 25 basis points to 8.00% either in July or September, while another eight expected no change next quarter and one saw a 50 bp cut to 7.75%.

Eight of nine economists said the Bank was more likely to cut rates fewer times this year than they expect, rather than more times.

Elna Moolman, Standard Bank's head of macro, fixed income and currency research, said that by the September meeting inflation should be on the "brink of sustainably reaching" the mid-point of the SARB's 3-6% target band, making it hard for the central bank to justify keeping real rates high and restrictive.

Inflation in South Africa is expected to average 5.1% this year and then sit in the middle of the target range at 4.5% for the next two years, according to the poll.

Consumer inflation eased to an annual 5.2% in April from 5.3% in March, as slower price rises for food and non-alcoholic beverages offset higher fuel costs.

Other central banks on the continent are still locked in rate hiking cycles to battle stubborn inflation.

However, in South Africa, the poll suggested there would be a further cut of 25 basis points in November to 7.75%, followed by one more of the same magnitude in the first three quarters of next year.

In the world's biggest economy, U.S. Fed officials at their most recent policy meeting said they still had faith price pressures would ease at least slowly in coming months, but doubts emerged about whether interest rates were currently high enough.

Economic growth in South Africa is expected to be 1.0% this year, 1.5% next year and 1.8% in the following year, according to the poll.

Citi economist Gina Schoeman said in a note that there is still hope of stronger economic growth in 2024 as power outages reduce and inflation declines.

"That said, downside risks to growth remain in the form of political uncertainty ahead of the...election, while logistical constraints - rail and ports - and water issues are also more prevalent," she added.

The election is set to be the most tightly contested since the end of apartheid, with opinion polls suggesting the governing African National Congress may lose its majority for the first time after 30 years in power.

(For other poll stories from the Reuters global economic poll:(Full story))

(Reporting by Vuyani Ndaba; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

By Vuyani Ndaba