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Zimbabwe probes thefts of donated school books

Associated Press

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) – Zimbabwe’s education ministry said Friday it is investigating how school text books donated by the U.N. children’s agency wind up in the hands of bookstores and street vendors.

The United Nations Children’s Fund has supplied 22 million books since late 2010 after a decade of economic meltdown that left many schools without teaching materials. In some schools, scores of pupils had shared a single book.

Education Minister David Coltart said Friday that culprits behind the theft and sale of books _ officially the property of government schools _ will be prosecuted.

The books, stamped and identifiable, sell for up to $10 on the street or $20 in a bookstore. A main teachers union says teachers may be stealing them to make up for poor salaries of about $220 a month.

Coltart said the donated books became the responsibility of individual schools across the country.

The joint schools program with UNICEF ended acute shortages of books and made Zimbabwe the only country in Africa with an estimated ratio of one book for each pupil, Coltart said in a statement.

The books were stamped with UNICEF and education ministry emblems and the legend “Not For Sale.” Each delivery was signed for and accounted for by principals at registered state schools.

Coltart said a likely market for stolen books was among unregistered and informal schools.

The Progressive Teachers Union says it has confiscated scores of books from street vendors and believes thousands more are being sold illegally.

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