* Hayward to leave before end 2019

* Process to appoint successor underway

* Exact timing of Hayward’s exit not confirmed (Adds analyst quote, background)

By Nqobile Dludla

JOHANNESBURG, May 6 (Reuters) – Massmart Chief Executive Guy Hayward will step down before the end of the year, the South African retailer said on Monday, ending five years at the helm of the supermarket group as it plans to expand further in Africa.

The 52-year-old’s departure comes after the group reported a sharp fall in full-year earnings in February and unveiled plans to add 47 new stores between 2019 and 2021 with about a third of them outside its home market where growth has stagnated.

Hayward felt that ahead of South Africa’s general elections this week,