JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) -South Africa's KwaZulu-Natal provincial legislature on Friday elected an Inkatha Freedom Party member as its premier, picking him over the candidate put forward by the uMkhonto we Sizwe party led by former President Jacob Zuma.

Thami Ntuli's election effectively shut out MK from governing the province, even though it was the party that got the largest share of the local vote in a May 29 election, while falling short of a majority.

"It's an important journey that we're starting today, joining the few from those who have gone before us to try and make the life of KwaZulu-Natal better," Ntuli told provincial lawmakers after his election. "We'll be hitting the road running as from today."

An MK party spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The party said in a statement that Zuma would speak on Sunday.

Ntuli got 41 votes, with the support of other parties, against 39 votes for the MK candidate to run the province, an MK stronghold.

No party had won an outright majority in the 80-member provincial legislature, forcing political forces to forge alliances to govern the province.

MK got 45.4% of the local vote, trouncing the IFP, which got 18.1%, and the African National Congress which came third with 17.0%. KwaZulu-Natal is the province where the economically important ports of Durban and Richard's Bay are located.

The IFP, ANC, the Democratic Alliance and the National Freedom Party - with 41 seats in total - agreed to work together in the province, giving them a slim majority over MK and the Economic Freedom Fighters' combined provincial seats.

"The DA is confident that this team will be able to navigate the difficult path ahead for the province, and call on all political parties to respect today's outcome," DA provincial chairperson for KwaZulu-Natal Dean Macpherson told Reuters.

Political analysts said such an anti-MK alliance could cause serious trouble in KwaZulu-Natal, where Zuma supporters rioted and hundreds of people were killed in violence in 2021 following news that he had been jailed for refusing to give evidence at a public inquiry into corruption during his time as president.

After coming to power in 2009, Zuma was forced to quit in 2018 following a string of scandals. The ex-president, who has always denied any wrongdoing, has since fallen out with the ANC.

Zuma's MK, which came a surprisingly strong third in the national election, winning 14.6% of the vote which translated into 58 seats in the 400-seat National Assembly, is also not part of the national unity government championed by the ANC.

(Reporting by Nqobile Dludla; Additional reporting by Nellie Peyton; Writing by Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo; Editing by Silvia Aloisi and Jan Harvey)

By Nqobile Dludla