Inflation surprised economists by slowing in May to 4.4% from April’s 4.5%.

Inflation was expected to continue its rise from a low of 3.8% reached in March, with an economists’ consensus that average price increases would rise to 4.6%.

"While we expect inflation to increase, we do not foresee a climb to above the Reserve Bank’s 6% upper target range for inflation over the next three years," Nedbank's economics team said in a note e-mailed after Statistics SA released May's consumer price index (CPI) report.

"This relatively benign inflation outlook and the still weak economy will probably convince the monetary policy committee to delay hiking rates for as long as possible. We forecast that rates will remain unchanged into the second half of 2019 before a mild upward cycle commences."

The food component of CPI showed annual inflation of 3%, down from 3.7% in April, helped by average fruit prices falling 6.4% and bread and cereals getting 4.1% cheaper over the year.

May’s fuel inflation came in at 9.4% from the same month in 2017.

The drop in fruit and cereal prices helped mitigate 7.8% inflation in meat prices and 6.8% inflation in fish prices.

Statistics SA reported on Wednesday that May’s consumer price index (CPI), which was set to 100 points in December 2016, was 107.2 points.

This was 4.4% higher than 102.7 points in May 2017 and 0.2% higher than April’s 107 points.

According to Stats SA, the price of cellphones and other telecommunications equipment fell by a substantial 15.8% over the year.

Stats SA provides average inflation for the country’s population split into 10 income brackets. According to these figures, the rich are suffering higher inflation than the poor.

South Africans in the lowest “expenditure decile” had inflation of 2.1%. This rose to 4.7% for people in the richest segment.